Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Dining Out Casco Bay Islands: Down East Feature

First, the business! I'll be reading from DISTILLED IN MAINE and sharing stories of Maine's alcoholic past and present at Maine Historical Society on Friday, September 11th at 5:30. What - that's cutting into happy hour, you say? I hear ya. Cocktails will be provided by Steve from Vena's Fizz House. Tickets are $10 for MHS members and $15 for non-members. Hope to see you! 


I was asked in early July to write a feature for Down East magazine, and I was extremely! excited! One, I'm always excited to write for magazines, and two, the feature was about eating out on Casco Bay islands. The Island Issue is on stands now - pick it up to see my seven page spread (!!!) of dining on three islands in Casco Bay: Peaks, Great Diamond, and Chebeague Island. 

But then there was a catch: a short deadline, made even shorter by my family's visit over the upcoming weekend. So I had about a week to visit the islands and write the piece - which meant I visited three islands in three days. It was a whirlwind tour, but certainly a worthy challenge. 

All in all, after my friends and I caught the ferry back to Portland, we really felt we'd gotten away - more so than if we'd driven to Cape Elizabeth or Yarmouth for dinner. The islands are special places, and when you visit, you feel like you're part of a club or at the very least, capture some of that feeling you get when you're on vacation, far from your daily responsibilities. Check out September's Down East for my write-ups as well as some behind-the-scenes tidbits below. 

We thought it'd be great to sail to Peaks Island on a Sunday for lunch at Milly's Skillet, the new food truck on the island, or The Cockeyed Gull, an adorable shingled restaurant I've always wanted to visit. Unfortunately, our sailboat's steering gear had other ideas and we ended up being towed back to Portland before we could dock at Peaks. Whomp whomp. 

But a schedule is a schedule, so we hopped on the ferry and motored back out to Jones Landing. I ordered aggressively from Milly's: fish chowder (not normally green - the hue is borrowed from the picnic table umbrella), fish tacos, a lobster roll, and fried Brussel sprouts. 

The lobster roll was a hit - the brioche bun was thick and sweet, with a nice, buttery crunch. There was tons of lobster meat and was enough to split for $18. Portland Food Map recently shared the update via the Forecaster that owner Molly Ritzo will open another truck in Falmouth on Route 100, so look for Maine Mountain Trader to get a taste of Molly's cooking if you don't make it out to Peaks before she closes for the season. 

But there's still plenty of good weather forecasted this summer in which to check out the Cockeyed Gull. After our food truck lunch, we headed to the Gull and sat on the deck overlooking the water. While we ordered several things, my favorite dish was the risotto with peas and mushrooms, topped with scallops, shrimp, or chicken. I went for grilled scallops - I can't get enough of them. 

When I saw that the Gull made their own desserts, I had to order a slice of key lime pie, even though we were all groaning with discomfort from our double lunches. The pie didn't disappoint, tart and creamy with a nice crunchy graham cracker crust, even though we were seriously pushing the limits of reasonable consumption at that point. 

The next night, we caught the ferry from Portland to Chebeague Island. I'd never been, and we loved the luxury of being picked up by the friendly young guy from the Chebeague Island Inn in a van that shuttled us from the southern end of the island to the restaurant, three miles away. 

We dressed up for the occasion, as the Inn is a little more formal, although like most things in Maine, it manages to be refined and relaxed at the same time. I have to admit that dinner at the Chebeague Island Inn would be out of my weeknight price range otherwise, but you could manage a less expensive version by sticking to the burger and a beer. 

The arugula, tomato, feta salad was zippy with strong flavors from the Aleppo pepper and pickled watermelon rind throughout (and room temperature, which is a rarity). We didn't love the mussels, that while local, were dry rather than in a broth for slurping and sopping. 

Aside from the burger, which was salty and rich with onion rings on it, the seared scallops over white asparagus were my favorite entree. The other fish dish we ordered was a little overcooked, and thus dry, so stick with the scallops and the burger. If nothing else, the porch of the Inn is a great place to enjoy a cocktail during the sunset. 

We were on track to miss the ferry back to Portland, so we opted to take the shorter ferry to Yarmouth and fortunately one of our dear friends was available to come pick us up in Yarmouth. The ferry ride from Portland is lovely, but it does take longer, so be more prepared than we were to call it an early night. 

Lastly, I headed out to Great Diamond Island to Diamond's Edge with my honey. We enjoyed a romantic date on the lawn of the restaurant - until the rain began and forced us onto the deck of the restaurant. 

I'd been to Diamond's Edge several times for drinks in the past, while out sailing, but never for dinner. The menu is huge, so there's surely something for everyone. The standout for me was the fried oyster, pork belly, and spinach appetizer - all served over a bold mustard-Porter sauce. 

We both enjoyed our entrees, an island bouillabaisse packed with tons of seafood and the filet mignon - classics that were satisfying in their familiarity. Instead of dessert, we retired to the bar for a nightcap, watched the Red Sox with a few other people, then strolled down to the ferry dock when we saw its lights appear around the corner of the cove. 

It's pretty special that we're able to pop out to an island in Casco Bay for an evening, letting you leave behind the rhythms of daily life to enjoy a special late summer meal. If you're the summer bucket list type, I suggest adding an island drink or dinner to your list as we enjoy these last few weeks of my favorite season in Maine. 

Thursday, August 27, 2015

BBF Travels: Lyon Distilling Co. St. Michaels, MD

On the way to the Outer Banks of North Carolina for our annual week at the beach, A. and I made a detour to St. Michaels, on the Eastern shore of Maryland, to revisit some of my old haunts and to check out some new ones. I lived there almost ten years ago (!!), teaching sailing at the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum. Since I left, there's new restaurants, a craft brewery, and even a small distillery, but perhaps unsurprisingly, the crew at the only bar in town is still the same. 

I first tried Lyon Distilling Co.'s rum when I visited Maryland in the spring, heading to two liquor stores in the Baltimore area until we found a bottle of their dark rum in stock. It's a sweeter rum with a rich caramel flavor, and it mixes well with a spicy ginger beer or in a tart Mai Tai. It's also delicious sipped on its own. 

On the day of our visit, we rode our bikes from the maritime museum down the main street to the old mill district - where the brewery, winery, and distillery are conveniently grouped together. I didn't even known about these mill buildings when I lived there, but much like Maine's mill towns, these old buildings have been turned into studio spaces, boutiques, and makers' shops. 

The tasting room of Lyon Distilling has a great industrial feel, and while there's just tastings of the spirits on offer, it would be a lovely spot to hang out for a while and enjoy a drink. There's a library of craft cocktail books - A. picked up a copy of And A Bottle of Rum by Wayne Curtis and I eyed Forgotten Maryland Cocktails: A History of Drinking in the Free State by Gregory and Nicole Priebe (another History Press book!). 

We tasted small sips of the unaged rum, the dark rum, and the Sailors Reserve - rum aged in used Bourbon barrels. The unaged rum is very bright - it's made from cane sugar and molasses, while the dark rum is sweeter, with some homemade caramel stirred into the rum. 

The Sailors Reserve is a higher proof and not as sweet, due to the aging in bourbon barrels. We even tried the corn whiskey, surprisingly sweet for a white unaged whiskey, and were excited to learn of a rye whiskey in the works. 

After the tasting, we were off on a tour of the distillery - and it was the cutest, smallest distillery I've ever seen. 

Our tour guide was Jamie Windon, the very enthusiastic partner of Ben Lyon, and the other distillery owner. Her sister works in the tasting room and the three of them (plus an intern) are the only employees. Windon works on the sales, distribution, and administrative stuff, while Lyon distills - making 5,000 gallons a year - not a lot for a company, but a lot for one man, Windon laughed.

Lyon and his one employee ferment molasses, sugar cane, and water in 55-gallon drums for a few days, then distill the rum wash in a series of small pot stills. These small columns on the stills help to keep lots of flavor in the final spirit, so they're used for whiskey and rum over the taller column stills that help make more neutral spirits like vodka. 

After the rum is distilled, the clear rum is aerated and bottled, while the dark rum has some homemade caramel added to the batch. Lyon melts some of the cane sugar that's used to make the rum and lets it caramel, before dumping it into the rum. The Sailors Reserve is aged in small one or three gallon barrels - the picture below shows the bulk of the barrels that Lyon Distilling uses. 

Right now, Lyon rum is found in D.C. and Maryland, but the bottles sell out frequently, so your best bet is to head to the distillery. We enjoyed a local Dark and Stormy at Eva's in St. Michaels later in the evening, then headed to Carpenter Street Saloon for a few Yuenglings and to watch the preseasons Ravens game. 

Fortunately for my nostalgia, not much has changed in St. Michaels since I lived there, save for the the welcome addition of a fantastic craft rum distillery, and it's hard not to be happy with that kind of growth.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

How to Make Kombucha, Kefir, Kvass - Plus a Workshop!

It is so very nice and warm here in Southern Maine this week. This is my summer sweet spot - super hot out, enough to make the chilly ocean water bearable for a quick dip. 

You know what else loves this hot weather? The microbes that power fermentation! I'm teaching a workshop on fermented beverages at Whole Foods in Portland this Thursday night (sign up here - only $20!) and so I've started a bunch of fermented projects to have as samples in the class. 

I started with kombucha - my favorite fermented beverages (ok, ok, aside from beer - I should say my favorite N/A fermented bev). The only tricky part of making your own kombucha is getting the starter or SCOBY. 

Supplies for growing your own kombucha SCOBY

Since I didn't know anyone who had SCOBY to spare (now I do - they tend to come out of the woodwork when you start talking about fermenting), I had to try to grow my own. I simply brewed one cup of organic, black tea, added two tablespoons of sugar, and a 16 oz. bottle of unflavored, raw kombucha. I used GT's, but the local Urban Farm Fermentory's stuff is probably fresher and less processed. 

Kombucha SCOBY. My apologies. 

The SCOBY seems to love the heat - after four days, there's a thickening layer of, well, gelatinous goo forming on top of the liquid. Kombucha is not for the faint of heart, frankly. 

After about a week, I can transfer my homegrown SCOBY into a new batch of sweet tea with a little more kombucha (to help kick off the fermentation - a process called back slopping) and let it ferment. After a week to ten days, I'll have a big batch of kombucha, ready for flavoring or drinking as is. Buying bottled kombucha can be an expensive habit, but fortunately making your own is crazy inexpensive. 

Kombucha is kinda mainstream these days. Hardcore fermenters are into kefir or even kvass. You may have seen dairy kefir at the grocery store - a commercial product frequently loaded with added sugar and sold as a smoothie-like product. The real stuff is extremely tangy and not very sweet, like yogurt on steroids.

Water kefir - grains are visible in the bottom of the jar 

Water kefir (pronounced kuh-FEAR) is different - a fizzy, mildly sweet beverage that I liken to a fermented lemonade. It's delicious, and can easily be made with some sweetened water and the kefir "grains" - a colony of bacteria and yeast. Dairy and water kefir are produced with different types of grains, so make sure you order accordingly. Either way, order the live grains or get some from a friend - I tried to rehydrate dried grains and they never woke back up. 

I ordered live kefir grains and when they arrived, mixed them into some spring water (my tap water is chlorinated and could kill the bacteria and yeast) with some organic, raw sugar. I added one tablespoon of sugar to one cup of water for every tablespoon of grains that I had (so two cups water, two tablespoons of sugar and grains). Kefir is an anaerobic ferment, meaning it needs to go into an airtight container, as it won't work in the presence of oxygen. 

My first batch of water kefir was ready in two days - it's on its second ferment, the one that amplifies the fizz. The grains have gone into a new batch of sweetened water, this time with a knob of ginger, as I'm hoping to liven up the grains' production a bit. (They're often slow to grow after being shipped across the country. Understandable.) It will be ready to drink in another day, and I'll keep in my fridge. 


Beet kvass was by far the easiest of the beverages - it's simply chopped beets in salt water (two large, organic, peeled beets, roughly chopped and stirred into 8 cups of water with 4 tablespoons of sea salt). 

I'd say, like many fermented beverages, kvass is an acquired taste. It's salty and beety. Americans typically don't drink salty beverages, so at first sip, it's like drinking vegetable broth. I hear one's body begins to crave it, but I've yet to push on through to that point yet. You'll have to whip up your own batch to see if you want to hop on the kvass train. 

If you're interested in learning the specifics of these three fermented beverages, join me at Whole Foods in Portland on Thursday at 6pm. Get your ticket at I'm also teaching a fermented vegetable and a quick pickles and refrigerator/freezer jam workshop there in September and October, so stay tuned for those details. 

So far I'm buoyed by my success in the world of homemade fermented beverages. Give it a whirl - none of these projects are very expensive, and if they work, then you have delicious, healthy drinks for these hot summer days! 

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Review of Boone's Fish House & Oyster Room, Portland

Business first: Come see me today at Maine Craft Distilling, 101 Fox St. in Portland's East Bayside neighborhood from 3-5pm for your signed copy of DISTILLED IN MAINE!


Now for my recent experience at Boone's... I have to be honest: I have a rather tortured relationship with The Rooms. I've enjoyed several meals at the Grill Room and the Corner Room, but the Front Room always seemed to fall short of the ravings I hear over their brunch.

For those unfamiliar, The Front Room, The Corner Room, The Grill Room, and Boone's Fish House & Oyster Room are all owned by Chef Harding Lee Smith, a polarizing figure in Portland's restaurant community. Despite all the dust-up over the chef's personality and politics that the Bollard aired a few years ago (we don't need to revisit the links; if you missed it, google it), I continued to occasionally visit the Rooms for their happy hour where cheap wine and a free appetizer spread proved difficult to resist. But none of the restaurants ever made my short list; the food always seemed... generic, frankly, and so I never found myself drawn to return very often.

When the boyfriend suggested Boone's for his mom's birthday dinner, my first response was, no way. Then I thought, ugh, don't be such a B, give it a shot. It's a nice restaurant on the water, and I wanted to have an open mind about the food there. I called and made a reservation for a Monday night - I asked to sit outside, but they don't make reservations for the outside decks. So we crossed our fingers and went.

If you want to be all TL;DR about it, the takeaway is that the food is fine, the service was not so fine, and I was unfortunately not impressed despite trying to find a silver lining.

Really the tone was set as soon as we sat at our table. After sorting out the lost reservation mix-up (albeit one with no consequence), we were seated on the deck - it's a busy area with a casual vibe, so perhaps I was on edge, wanting the evening to be a special occasion, not just a weeknight dinner out. But after about ten minutes of waiting with no sign of service, I returned to the host stand to let them know the issue. 

Our server came over a few minutes after I returned to the table, and I am going to try not to exaggerate for sympathy - offered a dismissive comment and poured our waters in silence. No, hi, how are you? Can I get you drinks? Sorry for the wait... She just offered an excuse, I guess? about what she was doing rather than waiting on us. I was frankly flabbergasted. I then was a friendly as possible, wanting the vibe at the table to be a positive one, but inside, I was pretty annoyed. 

Despite the meal getting off to a bad start, the rest of our experience was fine - we enjoyed each others' company and the server didn't offer much more to our table in terms of personality (good or bad). I liked this tomato salad (a special), with balsamic vinegar and fried cheese curds. The Bang Bang shrimp, fried with a spicy creamy sauce, was crunchy but kind of bland for the genre. 

The men enjoyed fish and chips - not the best plating I've ever seen, but again, the food was fine. 

My wood-roasted monkfish over beet puree with potatoes, edamame, bacon lardons, and fingerling potatoes (so succotash, basically) was good - the monkfish is very meaty, almost like a chicken breast. It was smoky and the puree lent a nice sweetness. 

As an aside, the fish at Boone's is served a la carte, so I appreciated this special dish that was already put together. It seems like work to have to assemble fish, sauce, and sides from the menu, where I'd rather see what the chef and cooks thinks goes well together. 

The birthday gal enjoyed the wood-grilled chicken, served over a huge portion of mashed potatoes and sauteed spinach. We didn't stick around for dessert, but headed to Captain Sam's for an ice cream cone and a nice stroll down relatively quiet Commercial Street.

Our meal was probably close to $200 after tip (dinner was on the boyfriend's dad, so I didn't see the check), and I came away disappointed with the experience overall. I believe Boone's bills itself as a relatively finer dining restaurant - at the very least due to the menu prices. But with salt sprinkled on the floors to create traction on the otherwise slippery floors (due to the humidity - it's a waterfront restaurant, so it's pretty much always humid), the state of the bathrooms, and of course the lackluster service, the details that would otherwise make it a fine dining experience were just not there. 

Bottom line: I unfortunately had my low expectations reinforced and believe that if you're looking for local seafood or a fine dining meal, you're better off headed somewhere else in Portland than Boone's. Now I know! 

Click to add a blog post for Boone's Fish House and Oyster Room on Zomato

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Summer in Maine: Cocktails, Pickles, Cakes, and Lobster Rolls

First the business! 

The Portland Spirits Society is headed to Biddeford for our August event on Monday, August 10th at 6pm. The newly opened Round Turn Distilling is producing an amazing, unique gin, so we'll be learning from Darren the Distiller about his product. RSVP on facebook or shoot me an email: blueberryfiles at gmail dot com, if you'd like to carpool. Ladies only, please.

I'll be at Sweetgrass Winery & Distillery in the Old Port (324 Fore Street) with copies of my book, DISTILLED IN MAINE, for sale and to sign. Come see me this Saturday at 2pm! 

- - - - - - - - - -

Phew, it feels like summer in Maine again! I was getting worried. OK, OK, I was getting grouchy. Someone just asked me, how's your summer going? And I realized my answer depends on the weather. When it's warm and sunny? Great! When it's 60 and I have to wear a sweater? Watch out. 

I know, I know, summer in Maine is the best, bla bla, all that. But what if it's not...then what? There are some serious expectations to be fulfilled, and when the weather doesn't deliver it can get ugly. But here we are in a sunny, 80-degree stretch, and our sailboat has been freed from boat jail (aka the repair shop), so the livin' is easy. 

I checked out the bar at Union, the restaurant in the new-ish Press Hotel, downtown Portland. The former home of the Press Herald offices, this boutique hotel is seriously swanky. There's midcentury modern furniture as far as they eye can see, muted colors, and lots of textured fabric. The bar is a beautiful slab of marble, and the cocktail list is approachable but intriguing. I had a PYO Fizz, with Barr Hall gin, strawberries, egg white and lemon. 

I'll be back for the Dow Punch (Plantation rum/Aperol/pineapple/bitters/OJ/house grenadine) and the Swaz (Old Overhold Rye/Zwack/lemon/absinthe). That last one just to find out what the hell Zwack is...

When the new copies of Bon Appetit and Imbibe magazines arrive at my house, I set to work finding the Portland, Maine reference. In Imbibe, our fair city is represented by a recipe for a D.T. Sloe from Portland Hunt & Alpine Club's Christopher Buerkle. It's sloe gin (gin flavored with tart sloe berries), rhum agricole, lime, and simple syrup. 

I spied it on Hunt & Alpine's new summer cocktail menu recently and had to order it (chances of me making it at home: slim to none). It was a little sweet, yet tart, and funky from the agricole rhum. I believe the menu compared it to a daiquiri, which I'm finding is my new go-to summer cocktail. (Yes, I realize I'm only a few ingredients away from drinking straight rum, leave me alone.) 

The D.T. Sloe is delightfully pink and comes neat in an adorable rocks glass. It's a good sipping (as opposed to swilling) drink. Try one the next time you're in there. 

My CSA share from New Beat Farm is all, can't stop, won't stop. The scary thing is that we share a share with another couple and still can't keep up. I feel like Jessica Seinfeld, sneaking vegetables into dishes where they wouldn't otherwise appear. Beets in smoothies are my new vegetable disguise. 

Of course, quick refrigerator pickles are always a good way to get the vegetables off of your to-do list. I made a quick brine of equal parts white vinegar and water, a few tablespoons of salt, - then add spices of your choosing (dill seed, mustard seed, peppercorns, crushed red pepper flakes, garlic). I pickled zucchini slices, snap peas, red onions, garlic scapes, carrot chunks, green beans, and cauliflower florets - those last three veggies I blanched briefly to improve their texture. 

These pickles disappear fast when added to an al fresco appetizer tray - crackers, hummus, olives, cheese. It's nice to have a fairly virtuous item to round out all the otherwise indulgent snack options. 

Portland Patisserie has indulgent covered, however. But surprisingly, these sweets are so well-balanced that they won't leave you feeling like you've gained several cavities or pounds. Roomie A. and I split these two - a frazier (strawberry cake) and a passion fruit blackberry chiboust - and didn't want to die afterwards. Au contraire! 

Their cherry pastry made me want to cry. I didn't realize breakfast pastry could be so good. And you know what? I was fine not knowing. No reason to indulge. Now I can't stop thinking about them. Woe is me!

Last week, I found myself with time to kill in Kennebunkport - one of my favorite Maine villages to kill time in. There was no line at the Clam Shack (gasp!) so I thought I'd finally cross their lobster roll off my bucket list (what, you don't have a lobster roll bucket list?). 

And it was delicious. I got to choose butter, mayonnaise, or both...and I bet you can guess which one I went with. The roll was buttered, grilled, and then spread with mayonnaise, and warm butter drizzled on the lobster meat. 

But it did not unseat Bite Into Maine as the winner of my heart - I love how BIM chops their lobster up into manageable pieces. I just cannot bite through an entire lobster tail without destroying the sandwich in the process. And very few things beat a buttered and griddled split top bun. Definitely a case of, if it ain't broke...

Let's get back to it - there's still so much summer to be had.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Bresca and the Honey Bee, Snack Shack at Outlet Beach

Our sailboat is in the shop. Not ideal timing, in the middle of July. But the upside is (and I'm searching hard for an upside), we get to use our weekends to do summer things that we'd otherwise skip in favor of sailing on Casco Bay. So that's how I discovered that I am a lake person. 

I don't think I had ever been to a Maine lake in the summertime before. But yesterday was the perfect time to go, when the thunderstorms were rolling through creating a thick coastal fog. It was sunny and 75* up in New Gloucester or at least after those thunderstorms passed. 

We headed to the northern end Sabbathday Lake, lured to Outlet Beach by Bresca and the Honey Bee. Former Portland restaurant owners and chefs, Krista Kern Desjarlais and Erik Desjarlais bought the Snack Shack a few years ago (3 now?) and are serving really awesome lakeside food, cooked over a wood-fired grill. 

When we first arrived at the lake, we had a little rain left to wait out, so we made a blanket tent on the picnic table and read books under it in the drizzle. When the rain stopped, the grill was fired up again, and we went over to the shack for lunch. The service is casual - order at a window and your food will be delivered a while later on a cheery red plastic tray. There's picnic tables (some covered) around the beach on which to eat.

The menu is (mostly) hot dogs, hamburgers, and salads; we went with two dogs and the Bresca shaved Brussels sprouts salad with pecorino, candied walnuts, and a roasted garlic dressing. I had the Indochine dog, with pickled carrot, radish, cilantro, basil, Fresno chili, cucumber, citrus chili, mayo and hoisin - spicy! and delicious. A. had the Canuk dog with smoked cheddar, caramelized onion, maple brûlée omelet, and herb relish - the omelet was amazingly crunchy and sweet, a fantastic and unusual hot dog topping. 

After lunch, we took our inflatable dinghy out across the lake, and then killed the engine and floated in the sun until we got hot. A quick dip off the side into the cool, clear, blissfully fresh, and shark-free water had me hooked. I love lake, especially one with food as good as at Outlet Beach.

**Outlet Beach and the Snack Shack are cash only for food, beach admission, and boat launch rates.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Distilled in Maine Launch Party and Events!

My second book, Distilled in Maine: A History of Libations, Temperance & Craft Spirits, is now available! I feel like I found the groove when I wrote this one, so I hope you enjoy it. It begins with the history of alcohol in Maine, starting with the earliest European explorers who brought brandy and wine and then the exhaustive work of Portland's mayor Neal Dow who was hellbent on ridding our state of alcohol and its attendant evils. Of course that never happened, so there's plenty of tales of coastal smuggling and high-speed (for the 1920s) car chases. 

The second half of the book profile the nine (at the time) craft distillers in the state from the earliest Cold River potato vodka to the new wave of Portland distillers like Maine Craft Distilling and New England Distilling. 

One of the most exciting things about the book is that famed Portland John Myers, currently of Portland Hunt & Alpine Club, wrote the foreword! John is entertaining, witty, and a good writer. At times I feel like he should have written the book, but I was asked, so there you have it.

The books are available through independent bookstores like Sherman's Books and Longfellow Books in Portland, online, and at Books-A-Million. I'm having a launch party this Friday at Sherman's Books (49 Exchange St) from 5-7pm. Stop in and say hello! I'll be signing books and there will be sample cocktails. 

I'll also be at the Rails, Tails & Ales at the Boothbay Railway Village this Saturday, July 18th from 12-4pm. There will be live music, beer from several Maine craft breweries, and even train rides. Sounds like great fun, I only wish my nephew was still visiting to enjoy it!

Also, pick up the latest copy of Zest magazine to see amazing caricatures of local food writers along with our top 5 dishes and drinks around the state. I got mine at the Rosemont market on the Hill, but you should be seeing them around - there's a big, beautiful enticing shot of ice cream sandwiches on the cover.

Hope to see you at an upcoming book event!

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

BBF Travels: The Wallingford Dram, Kittery

Although I rarely make it to other dining spots outside of Portland (not for lack of wanting!), I've become increasingly familiar with the small but high-quality food scene in Kittery, thanks to some friends in that area who give me the inside scoop. I've visited the Black Birch and Anju Noodle Bar, and enjoyed each immensely, so when I heard the owners of Anju were opening a cocktail bar next to their restaurant, I made the trip south from Portland to check it out. 

I met Deb and Lauren there for happy hour, and invited Original Roomie A. along too, figuring she'd enjoy the experience as much as I would. We rolled into Kittery on a midweek night, but found little parking and a line out the door of the Black Birch. Looks like the locals don't mess around. 

We strolled down the foreside, not entirely sure where we were headed, but I knew that it was next door to Anju. We missed the bar on our first pass, and so we stopped into Anju to ask, where the host led us through the back door of the restaurant into a hallway, opened an unmarked door, and directed us into the back of the Wallingford Dram. Our entrance lent the diminutive bar a speakeasy vibe, but the actual front door is around the corner from Anju, should you chose to go that route. 

We sat at the bar, taking up 4 of the maybe 20 seats in the house. The bar's wood paneling, dark green walls and low lighting gave the place a cozy British pub feeling, and the loads of fresh fruit and herbs, and jars of housemade syrups, bitters, and tinctures let you know the places takes its cocktails seriously. 

The cocktail menu is at least 6 pages long, so I took my time in ordering - having great difficulty narrowing it down, but deciding to go with the Golden Hour: reposado tequila, fino sherry, house apricot liqueur, chipotle cinnamon agave nectar, lime juice, served over ice with a spicy chili rim. 

I was also tempted by the Yard Gate Punch: blend of rums, allspice dram, grenadine, lime, bitters, nutmeg, and the Dovetail, a riff on a paloma with mezcal, tequila, grapefruit liqueur, grapefruit juice, salt, lime, and egg white (I'm a sucker for an egg white drink). 

A. chose the East By Gimlet, with gin, house lime cordial, lime, lemongrass, curry leaf, and fenugreek. As you might imagine, these unusual cocktail spices made for a very refreshing summer cooler. 

We caught up with my friends, snacked on some spiced nuts and some welsh rarebit, then decided we could share a Mai Tai and still be okay to drive. This version was delightfully tart (I might be becoming disillusioned with my RumDood recipe, as I think it borders on too sweet), and was garnished with some vibrant pickled ginger. 

I'm looking forward to returning to the Wallingford to work my way through their expansive cocktail list, and Portlanders should add it to their list of things worth the trip out of town for. 

Thursday, June 25, 2015

First Look at Terlingua - Opening Tonight!

My friends Melanie and Pliny Reynolds are opening a restaurant on Washington Avenue, called Terlingua (opening tonight at 5pm!). I am predisposed to love it, since I a) love Mel and Plin and b) have always enjoyed any of the food they prepare. Pliny lived in Austin for a while, so he's got the barbecued meats thing on lock. Their friend Wil Rothschild is in the kitchen, and every time Wil's made dinner or brought some dish to a potluck, it's always amazing too. Wil has cooked in the Caribbean, and his bold use of seasonings on seafood reflects that. 

Terlingua occupies the former home of Chez Biso Na Biso on Washington Ave., a few doors down from Silly's. Pliny and his construction team peeled back the layers of "renovations" in the space, gave the systems a much needed upgrade, and slowly brought the space back to an usable restaurant. They've upcycled the poured concrete bar from El Rayo's Cantina and stools and tables from Nosh. The space is painted a cheerful red, but is lightened up by the lathe that covers behind the bar and separates the kitchen from the dining room - but still provides a bit of permeability, allowing the excitement of the kitchen to spill over without being distracting. 

Joe Ricchio is behind the bar on Mondays and Saturdays and was pouring drinks for the friends and family dinner I attended on Tuesday. The draught beer selection is Dogfish Head-heavy, as Pliny is related to a brewer there, and I enjoyed a Jolly Pumpkin sour. That night there was also a spicy margarita (MargaRicchio) and some delightfully dry red sangria. 

To start, I enjoyed the pork belly chicharron and the smoked fish dip; the other starters are a lettuce leaf salad, red snapper ceviche, a summer corn salad, and shell-on shrimp. 

Everything was fantastic - the pork belly that hard-to-achieve combo of tender, but cooked enough to render the fat palatable, then topped with the crunchy pork skin. The whitefish was very smoky and flecked with crunchy bits of onions and peppers. The accompanying habanero dip added a nice slow burn. 

A. and I shared the red chili with smoked brisket (pictured below is large portion; it's also available as a half), and we had a hard time choosing it over the green chili with smoked pork. Other entrees include a veggie empanada, stuffed poblanos, pozole, beef tongue and cheek tacos, and a barbecue board, that night featuring brisket. The entree prices range from $7-10 for half portions and $13-18 for full (can I tell you how much I love that they offer half portions??). 

The chili was nice and smoky - flavorful, but not too spicy, and the brisket was very tender. The salty farmers cheese, diced onions, and cilantro were the perfect toppings. 

For dessert, we enjoyed a perfectly gooey tres leches cake, made by East End Cupcakes, with a crustless pecan pie and a housemade apple pie or sorbet available too.

Terlingua nails it right out of the gate - fantastic food; a friendly, neighborhood vibe; and prices that will allow you to pop in frequently. I'm so happy to see my friends realizing their dream of opening this restaurant in Portland, and hope that once you get there, you love this casual, barbecue-ish restaurant as much as I do.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Strawberry Season in Maine

The fresh strawberries are starting to appear in the markets here in Southern Maine (!!!). I see strawberries as the official start to the short Maine preserving season - for one, strawberry jam is one of my favorite types of jam, so it's the first Maine-grown produce I feel the need to capture in large amounts. When the berries are in, I hear the firing of the starting gun. The race is on to put up my favorite produce - and our in-season, local fruit is high on the list.

That said, I also thinking jamming, in general, and strawberry jam, in particular, is one of the more finicky things one can attempt in food preservation. Some knowledge and experience is required to get fruit jams to "set" or to have that jam-like, spreadable texture (versus a runny fruit syrup). And then strawberries have their own issues, like foaming and floating, that can confuse or worry a newbie canner.

I've written tons on how to best preserve strawberries, but here are the highlights: my favorite recipes for the New England canner who is as excited about the first fruits of summer as I am.

For jamming, I turn to Pomona's Pectin - it's available at natural foods stores, Whole Foods, and online. Pectin is the stuff in fruit that bonds with sugar and water to create the set. Manufacturers extract pectin from fruit, dry it, and powder it, so you can be sure your jam or jelly will set. The thing is, most pectins require the addition of sugar to work. If you're looking to avoid sugar completely or use an alternative sweetener for whatever reason (flavor, health, fun), you're out of luck with most commercially-available pectins. 

Pomona's is uniquely formulated, in that it does not need sugar to set! No sugar needed means you're free to use any kind of sweetener you want: honey, maple syrup, agave, Stevia, Splenda, and of course, white or raw sugar, just maybe less of it than some recipes call for. 

My favorite strawberry jam made using Pomona's Pectin is this strawberry rhubarb jam, using a robust honey from my friend SK. The honey flavor complimented the tart rhubarb and strawberries nicely and stood up to the fruit, whereas a mild honey would disappear. 

I've also made low-sugar strawberry jam using SureJell's No Sugar Needed pectin (no sugar in that you can use Splenda, but it's also a reduced sugar pectin). The recipe calls for 6 cups of fruit and 4 cups of white sugar. I think the flavor is perfectly sweet without being cloying or losing the fruit flavor, but the more I become used to my low-sugar jams made with Pomona's, the more I find it's on the sweet side. This recipe would be perfect for someone who is used to a full-sugar jam, but is looking to use less sugar without freaking out their sweet tooth. 

While I love the classic strawberry jam, add-ins are fun, like vanilla extract or herbs. I'm enjoying the strawberry basil jam from my friend Sue at Above the Dam Jam that I bought at the Kennebunk Farmers Market. She adds whole basil leaves while the fruit is cooking, then removes them before canning. I've steeped whole herbs like lavender and mint in with my strawberry mixture, adding a subtle complexity to the final product. 

Bourbon and vanilla add a nice touch too - if you're lucky enough to have been given or if you make your own, a splash of Bourbon vanilla extract adds some sweetness, which will in turn help you reduce the sugar in your jams. I've also added a vanilla bean to my sugar before jamming, to infuse the sugar with a slight perfume of the spice. I've got Love and Olive Oil's limoncello strawberry jam bookmarked for this year. 

A lof of these projects might not take place in the next few weeks, since I use my freezer to preserve the berries first. I pick my own fruit, then wash, dry, and hull the berries. After they're packed into freezer-grade plastic bags, I stow them in the freezer until I either run low on strawberry jam or until I have more time to undertake a more elaborate project like canning. 

Jam also freezes well, and several pectins are available that don't require cooking to work. That means there's more fruit flavor making its way into your jam, and in the middle of winter, your tastebuds will be particularly wowed.