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. 

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Portland Rum Riots: Tiki Cocktail Workshop at Hugo's

I'd been looking forward to Saturday's tiki cocktail seminar ever since Briana Volk, of Portland Hunt & Alpine Club contacted me while planning the event months ago. It was part of the 2nd annual Portland Rum Riots - a celebration of craft cocktails, spirits, and bars on the anniversary of a riot during Maine's long prohibition against alcohol. One hundred and sixty years later, Maine may have some residual legal hang-ups over alcohol, but inside Hugo's on a beautiful Saturday afternoon, it was nothing but rum-soaked tropical fun. 

The event was lead by Christian Gaal and Phoebe Esmon, who run a tiki bar, the Yachtsman, in Philadelphia together. Christian was the storyteller, while Phoebe whizzed up drinks and provided technical advice about syrups, drams, and other classic tiki ingredients. 

We started with the Tree Frog - a blended drink with Plantation rum, allspice-galangal syrup, fresh lime juice, and banana. I don't know about you, but if I'd seen this on a menu, I might have shied away from it, because of the allspice and the banana. But it was lightly fruity and not too spicy, perhaps balanced by the fresh squeezed lime juice and the slushy blended ice (recipes to follow). This drink represents the "new wave" of tiki - not overly sweet, elevated, and still made with traditional tiki ingredients (namely, rum!). 

Next up was Red Sea Rig #2, an original cocktail created for this event. It uses several local products: New England Distilling's Ingenium gin and Finest Kind green tea hibiscus concentrate. It was tart with a faint undertone of warming spices from both the Ingenium gin, which uses unique Southeast Asian botanicals, as well as the allspice dram. 

At this point, the instructors took a break and let us socialize. As you'd expect, there were a lot of interesting people there - I learned about a local cocktail club (like a book club, but with wine) and made plans to have a tiki party this summer (big surprise: everyone is very enthusiastic about tiki after two rum drinks!). We also noshed on Eventide snacks, including the Holy Grail of bar snacks: the brown butter lobster roll. 

After the cats' attention was herded back to the bartenders, we learned about the Doctor Funk of Tahiti, from Trader Vic's Bar Guide, published in 1947. Christian's stories during the serving of this drink included the history of absinthe and the bastardization of grenadine (really, check out how to make grenadine, you'll be shocked when you see what it's actually supposed to be made from). 

Again, another ingredient that might make one wrinkle one's nose - absinthe - blended in surprisingly nicely with the dark rum, simple syrup, grenadine, and citrus juices, creating just a touch of herbal notes that left one wondering, rather than overpowering. 

If you're sad you missed the Rum Riots events, there's still time! Tonight is the "closing ceremony," if you will, at Central Provisions. Happy hour starts at 5pm with rum drinks from Plantation rum. 

Tree Frog
From the Yachtsman, Philadelphia

2 oz. Plantation rum
3/4 oz. allspice-galangal syrup
3/4 oz. fresh lime juice
1/2 banana

Blend. Serve in a red wine or daiquiri glass. Garnish with star anise pod.

Red Sea Rig #2
From the Yachtsman, Philadelphia for Portland Rum Riots

1.5 oz. Ingenium gin
3/4 oz. Kronan Swedish Punsch (liqueur made from sugar cane)
1 barspoon St. Elizabeth allspice dram
1/2 oz. lime juice
1/2 oz. Finest Kind green tea hibiscus concentrate
1/4 oz. honey syrup (2:1 honey to water)

Shake in a cocktail shaker, strain into coupe glasses, top with Cremant de Limoux bubbles. Garnish with lemon wheel.

Doctor Funk of Tahiti
From Trader Vic's Bar Guide, 1947

2.5 oz. Papa Pilar's dark rum
1/4 oz. absinthe
1/4 oz. simple syrup
1/4 oz. grenadine
1/2 oz. lemon juice
Juice of one lime

Shake with crushed ice, strain into Pilsner glass, top with a splash of soda water. Garnish with orchid or fruit.

The beautiful recipe cards were designed by Might & Main, a local design and branding firm.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Quick and Easy Beach Eats for a Crowd

We got our beach on this past Memorial Day weekend. I hope you did too - the weather is Maine seems like it's been fast-forwarded a month, doesn't it? I am NOT complaining, just tip-toeing around, like if we mention it we'll scare it off. 

Despite a brisk wind Sunday, the front lawn of the beach house was perfect for lounging, reading (mocking) fashion magazines, and playing bocce. 

My new thing this summer: steamed shrimp. They're a staple in Maryland in Virginia, but you don't see them served too often in Maine. I stopped into The Lobster Co. in Arundel for some shrimp, where I found a plethora of the crustaceans - even processed frozen Maine shrimp for a very reasonable price! 

But I needed raw, shell-on shrimp (wild caught, even), so they could be steamed in beer and liberally sprinkled with Old Bay. I didn't have a steamer, but they turned out fine simply boiled in beer in a wide, shallow skillet. I served them with "sludge:" melted butter with yet more Old Bay.

As a side note, I about died when I found the Old Bay in the Kennebunk Hannaford. This is the back of the seafood section by the service entrance. See it? No? It's in the bottom right corner of this display, in small spice bottles rather than the traditional yellow and red tin (yes, there are tins, but none of them original flavor - only something about low sodium? Ew.). 

For a cozy dinner for a crowd, we went with Smith Slop, my boyfriend's grandmother's recipe. Egg noodles are layered with sauteed ground beef, tomato sauce, and the a mix of sour cream, cottage cheese, and chopped white onions. It's topped with shredded cheese and baked until warm and bubbly. On a cool night in a cozy beach house, it was the perfect comfort food. 

In another Maine-meets-Maryland twist, the ingredients pictured above are also the base for my family's comfort food recipe: Red Noodles. All you need to round it out? Chopped hot dogs. Don't knock it til you try it! 

My lemon rosemary infused Twenty2 vodka is still waiting patiently until it's destiny can be fulfilled as a star in the Art in the Age Rhubarb, Aperol spritz my friends and I have been dreaming of. Instead, we drank peach-infused bourbon with peach simple syrup, muddled basil, and seltzer, in a twist on a mint julep.

More on our cocktail experiments and infusions next time. But until then, break out the grill and enjoy this beautiful stretch weather we're having!

Friday, May 22, 2015

Lovely Lunch at Lolita

Did you know Lolita on Munjoy Hill serves lunch? I didn't consider it as a lunch spot, but more for a special occasion dinner or a nice place to sit at the bar and catch up with a friend. But why not catch up with a friend over lunch? As the weather warms, their tables on the sunny side of Congress Street seem more and more appealing. 

I stopped in for lunch with Original Roomie A. earlier this week, and learned Lolita offers several daily $10 lunch specials. Side note: A. and I are practicing our "ladies who lunch" routine. We enjoyed the bento box lunch special at Miyake ($18!!) with some sparkling rose last month. This time we shared plates and loved the speciality cocktail: Hendrick's gin, Darjeeling tea syrup, St. Germain, lemon, and sparkling wine. Hello.  

Harissa sardine pot with sourdough

Another misconception of mine as it relates to Lolita is that it's fairly meat-heavy and rich. The last time I was in there, it was late fall, and I ordered a lot of rich meat dishes. But the menu has a lot of lighter dishes, yes, accented with meat, but with plenty of fresh vegetables too - especially in spring. Think chilled English pea soup, a spring salad, or Moroccan chickpeas. 

I, however, couldn't resist ordering meat and cheese: the Spanish sardines with harissa pot, the steak tartare and the burrata with lemon zest and Aleppo oil (3 for $10). 

One of the $10 lunch specials was an open-faced sandwich with a speck, arugula, and smoked tomato aioli on grilled sourdough bread. It's like Lolita in a sandwich: sliced Italian meat and a smoky flavor from their wood-fired grill. The sandwich came with a side of seared Shishito peppers, and I did encounter a few delightfully spicy ones. 

The other lunch specials were a rabbit stew with tomato, onion, and fennel, or a picnic board, where you selected one item from each of the meat and cheese selections, and it comes accompanied by spreads, pickles, and bread. 

So the next time you're getting your "ladies who lunch" on, consider heading up Munjoy Hill to Lolita for some small plates or the special (and definitely some wine). The Eastern Prom is waiting for you to relax on afterwards - and keep up the good work, weather!

Disclosure: I was treated to lunch by the PR firm that helps to promote Lolita. Thanks gBritt! 

Thursday, May 14, 2015

BBF Books: Distilled In Maine Update!

Man, the Portland food writing and restaurant scene just went crazy. Lost its damn mind over "Criticgate 2015." I'll just be over here, "la la la!" writing about whatever, trying to stay out of the fray. Because we all know I don't have strong opinions, mm-mm, not me. 

So: my exciting news! I have a beautiful preview of my next book to share with you. "Distilled in Maine: A History of Libations, Temperance and Craft Spirits" is off to print soon. It will be released mid-July, and you can bet your bottom there will be a party (with booze, natch). 

As usual, the designers at the History Press did a great job with the cover layout:

And you can see that famed bartender John Myers wrote a foreward! I was so excited when John agreed to do so; he's got a great voice and provided a nice overview of why Maine is so unique when it comes to alcohol (hint: it's the birthplace of Prohibition!). 

Of course, as soon as you hit "send" on something profiling the current scene (be it food, booze, or beer) it very soon becomes out-of-date, but the book features 9 craft distilleries in the state and an alcoholic history of Maine (it starts 400 years ago with the first European settlers, who introduced alcohol into the state). 

Naturally, Neal Dow, the so-called Father of Prohibition, plays a large part in the state's history, so I got to know ole Nealie, as I refer to him in my head, pretty well. He's a fascinating character, and I loved revisiting Portland in the 1800s through his eyes. 

I've got the page proofs now, and so I'll give it one final fine-toothed-comb once over, and then it's out of my hands. I'll let you know when and where the party is, as I'm so excited to share "Distilled in Maine" with you! 

Back cover copy: 

Early American Maine ran on sweet and fiery New England Rum. Later, rapid industrial advances and ever-present drinking opportunities made daily life unnecessarily hazardous. Overindulgence triggered a severe backlash, a fierce temperance movement and eighty-two years of prohibition in the Pine Tree State. While the coastal state never really dried out, the Maine Law sent both serious and social drinking under the table for the better part of a century. Liquor crafted in Maine has slowly and quietly remade itself into a respected drink, imbued with history and representing the best of the state’s ingenuity and self-reliance. Contemporary distillers across the state are concocting truly local spirits while creative bartenders are mixing the new and old, bringing back the art of a fine drink. Join Portland food writer Kate McCarty on a spirited romp through the evolution of Maine’s relationship with alcohol.