Thursday, January 31, 2013

Maine Maple Syrup: Use It

My order of waffles at brunch recently prompted my server to ask, would like real Maine maple syrup with that? My affirmative response then added $1.50 to my tab. And this has me thinking. 

Why is the inclusion of maple syrup to a brunch dish an upcharge here in Maine, where tourism one of our biggest industries? Why would a fairly nice brunch spot, one that has hour long waits on the weekends and is known as one of the best brunch spots in town to tourists and locals alike, default to serving corn syrup with waffles? 

Maine maple syrup and a Maine Coon cat for good measure

Now, I'm not talking about breakfast at Ruski's or a diner, where the squeezy bottle of pancake syrup sits in the tray of condiments all day long. And to be fair, there are plenty of restaurants that serve maple syrup without an separate charge.

But for those that don't, shame on you. (That's right, shame!) In Maine, Maine maple syrup should be the default syrup served with pancakes and waffles. We're a tourist-driven city, and if we don't show off our state's products, then how are we to expect visitors to be interested in them? There's tons of people that don't even know Maine produces potatoes at all.

For those of you forming the counter-argument that maple syrup is expensive, I hear you. So please absorb this cost into the cost of the dish, as you would with any other ingredient. Charge me $7 for waffles instead of $5. I'm pretty sure the market will bear that cost. And if you don't like maple syrup, but prefer corn syrup? Fine. You're still paying $7 and subsidizing the cost of future maple syrup purchases.

Did someone say waffles?

Surprisingly, in discussing this issue with friends, a whole host of other issues comes up. It's a touchy subject apparently! Also related: the (not so nice) attitudes of servers in tourist spots such as Moosehead Lake, the labor and cost involved in the production maple syrup, government subsidies of large commodity farms, and the need to balance the desire for a free market with that of supporting the local economy (see: Maine Congresspeople urging 5 Guys to use Maine potatoes).

I'm not asking that every product that is available locally be used, although it is lovely when a restaurant can do that. I appreciate food costs and profit margins. But for a product as visible as Maine maple syrup, it seems like a simple switch.  Because you're in Maine, of COURSE your waffles come with local maple syrup! How charming! Just charge me appropriately from the start. 

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Super Bowl Eats

I'm still relishing that the Ravens beat the Pats and are this year's AFC Champions. Since I live in Maine, the smack talk was pretty ramped up this past week (my facebook wall was covered in demeaning Ravens photos - especially that stupid Ray Lewis retirement billboard). 

Everyone up here seems to want to move on quickly and forget their team's pitiful performance in that game - although there are plenty of good sports who congratulated me - and I'm already looking forward to the meal at the Super Bowl. 

I love to make food themed to whichever teams are playing and thrilled to host a Baltimore themed Super Bowl party this year. 

I'd love to have steamed crabs and Natty Boh, but neither are available up here. Maybe some crab cake sandwiches, but that would get pretty pricy when crabmeat is $22/lb. 

My sister makes sure to stock crab dip when I come home for the holidays, but I'm thinking that might not be the best showcase for crab meat (don't get me wrong, I love creamy crab dip!). 

So I think I'll make my mom's Maryland crab soup. For those of you not familiar, it's a spicy (spiced with Old Bay), tomato-based vegetable soup with big pieces of lump crab meat and whole crab claws, if you have them. 

My mom makes it after a crab feast, saving a few crabs to picking for the meat, and boiling the crab claws in the soup to flavor it. My favorite veggies to include are peas, green beans, corn and potatoes. Rather than drench the crab meat in creamy ingredients, the tomato-based soup will show off the crab meat without being too heavy. 

Also, chicken and waffle wings!! Last year, I made Buffalo chicken cupcakes, and I've enjoyed a chicken and waffle cupcake, so this seems like the next logical step. If I cave and buy a waffle maker in the next two weeks, I will definitely make these. 

This HarBowl will be epic - Jim vs. John, Dungeness vs. Blue crab, chowder in a bread bowl vs. MD crab soup, San Francisco Bay vs. Chesapeake Bay! I could go on, but I won't - you obviously know my preference. Let's go Ravens! 

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Baller Pocket Brunch

I really came in at the top here - attending my first Pocket Brunch on Sunday, where the theme was "Baller" and the guest chef was Rob Evans of Duckfat (and formerly Hugo's). Pretty baller of me, if I do say so myself (I feel I must disclose that I bartered with a generous friend for the $100 a head tickets, lest you think I'm actually bragging). 

Pocket Brunch is a monthly brunch series started by Josh and Katie Schier-Potocki, Joel Beauchamp, Nan'l Meiklejohn and friends - all assorted restaurant owners, chefs, and talented cooks. This month's brunch was at Broadturn Farm in Scarborough, housed in various outbuildings and greenhouses, decorated with a farmhouse-chic vibe - bundled boughs, milk glass, and white paper poofs. 

Bartender Nan'l Meikeljohn, known as the Bearded Lady, started the morning off with cocktails - I had the Ball-ionaire: gin, green chartreuse, blanco sweet vermouth, orange biters, topped with Cristalino (cava). The drink looked and tasted like sparkling wine, with herbal, citrusy notes. 

I heard raves about the Dean Martini: a savory, clear martini of vodka, tomato water, and spices with a celery garnish, and so I tried one next. The fresh, grassy flavors were unexpected from such a clear, simple drink. A. and I shared it and sipped it slowly throughout the six-course meal. 

As we milled around the cocktail hour, exclaiming over people's 'ballin' outfits and meeting new people, we snacked on 'Pocket Bacon' bites of skewered Broadturn mozzarella balls and thick-cut bacon cubes resting in a fermented tomato sauce. We debated how many of these constituted our fair share (somewhere in the neighborhood of 5). 

We then were escorted by our fabulous hostess (decked out in bling and fur, natch) to the greenhouse, which had been outfitted with two long tables, set with white linens and glasses of bubbly. 

While we were presented with printed menus that looked like a wedding invitation, I wanted to keep the details a surprise. I read the description for each course only after I was presented with the dish, and so was always amazed to take in each dish after it was placed in front of me. 

The meal started with a Maine sunchoke soup, garnished with a fried egg yolk, black truffle oil, and a beef tongue grabiche, which is a sauce that in this case contained capers and chopped egg whites. 

The soup was wonderfully smooth, with the additions adding different textures of crunch and tender meat, salty capers, and earthy truffles. 

Next, my favorite course, the salad of spicy gravlax, trout roe, fried Maine potato shreds, creme fraiche, and pistachio marmalade. I was really wowed by this course - so simple and perfectly done. Roe that pops in your mouth, crunchy potatoes, creamy sauce, spicy salmon, and the sweet, salty, crunch of the pistachios. 

Because this dish was fried to order, we had plenty of time to get to know our table mates and to get to know the "Brunch Monkey," a half-full bottle of sparkling wine, filled with various juices and liqueurs.  Each one was different, all of them good. 

By far the most baller of the courses, the 23K gold flaked foie gras, with apple butter, pickled apples, quince, and brown bread was buttery, spicy, and rich. We joked that our insides were now worth considerably more, being coated in gold leaf.  

The sunnyside duck egg over a Mortadella ball with Brussel sprout has and saffron-tabasco hollandaise was a fun dish, as the Mortadella at first looked more like a carb-based product. But why carb when you can meat? 

I ate carefully around the clear whites of the egg (shudder) and cooed over the adorable cubes of veggies in the sprout hash. 

After our plates had been scraped clean and our flutes drained, we were invited to migrate to the cocktail room again and to enjoy our dessert. 

We applauded the hosts, servers, bartenders, chefs (Chef Evans and Potocki seen above) of Pocket Brunch, before grabbing our Broadturn yogurt parfait, made with almond milk tapioca, blood orange, and couscous granola and heading outside. 

By now the place looked more like your typical farm party, with various bonfires erupting, groups of smokers, and people tromping through the snow and mud on the way to the outhouse.  

A. and I had to jet, as we'd now been at the farm for almost six hours and had a kickoff to make. I enjoyed my parfait in the car as we zoomed down the country roads back to Portland. 

Warm from the sparking wine, I was so happy to be a part of a creative food community, to be able to enjoy a fantastic event such as this one. I do hope to see you at another Pocket Brunch (sign up on their website to be notified of ticket sales), since it the food is so good and the greenhouse is always full of characters. 

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Top 10 Hottest NFL Quarterbacks 2012

Another NFL regular season has come to a close, and so I've had plenty of time to ogle the men on the field and rearrange my Top 10 list. I try to rate them on their looks alone, but as a Ravens fan, there are certain men barred from the list (obviously Roethlisberger, but fortunately no conflict there). This year, I was really happy to dig up enough hotties to avoid the Manning brothers and Romo. Here we go! 


1. Aaron Rodgers: Rodgers is cute AND funny - he photobombs his team regularly (even imitating Smoking Jay Cutler), and his leads his team with a strong performance this season. Will Green Bay be the NFC champs? We'll see! (More time for looking at Rodgers? OK.)

2. Mark Sanchez: *whomp whomp* I said I was ranking these men on looks alone, but it was impossible to continue thinking Sanchez was the hottest after that season. It's like when you find out a hot guy is an idiot - automatically less hot! Sorry, Mark. 

3. Robert Griffin III: I now look forward to the NFL draft like any ardent football fan, but for a different reason - new hot men! I loved seeing the rookie RGIII come to the league, with his sexy specs and brilliant smile. However, I was horrified to see his electric season leading the usually downtrodden Redskins come to such a wrenching end. 

4. Cam Newton: I don't ever recall watching Newton play this season, but fortunately, he graced the cover of my GQ magazine this fall. Hello! Someone needs to promote this man to a better team. 

5. Brady Quinn: Between their losing record and the player tragedy, Quinn's team had a hard season. But I was happy to see Quinn get a start this year, if only to have more fodder for this list! 

6. Colin Kaepernick: Kaepernick replaced Smith for the 49ers, and while I was sad to see Smith go, I was happy to google Kaepernick. I love his atypical sports star look, especially his tattoos.   

7. Sam Bradford: Bradford should have been included last year, because he is way cuter than some of the men who made the list (ahem, Romo). I love his Taylor Lautner-esque looks and curly hair. 

8. Tom Brady: The cult of Tom Brady will be happy to see him rise a step this year - and it's all because of the hat! I was so pleased when I saw these cute beanies debut on the sidelines. Look how cute he is with a pom-pom!!  

9. Russell Wilson: Another new guy! And apparently Wilson went to the same high school as my cousin in Richmond, VA. I have like zero feelings about the Seahawks, but apparently Russell's performance on the field is hot too. 

10. Ryan Fitzpatrick: Aw, the Year of the Beard is no more. The Bills returned to sucking this year. Maybe he needs a hug?