Monday, December 29, 2014

Cranberry Ginger Lime Holiday Punch Recipe

Several Portland food bloggers and enthusiasts (myself included) have been gathering annually in December for the Obscure Holiday Cocktail party for SIX years now. At first, the cocktails actually were obscure holiday cocktails, meaning retro, traditional, and forgotten. Then the featured cocktails veered, with varying degrees of success, into holiday peppermint and pine flavors. Finally, in Year 6, the participants have settled into a routine of unique and tasty cocktails.

This year's party featured light and refreshing gin and grapefruit cocktails; a warming spiced tea and rum toddy; and a hearty single malt whiskey, absinthe concoction. A fantastic, hard-hitting boozy eggnog ice cream even made an appearance. 

I contributed this Red Nose Punch from Saveur, which I found on a Pinterest board titled "Big Batch Cocktails to Get Your Family Drunk on Thanksgiving." Still one holiday to go, so substitute "family" with "friends" and make this punch for New Year's Eve. It's tangy and fizzy, but not so alcoholic that no one will make it to midnight. 

Red Nose Punch
Adapted from Saveur

2 cups fresh cranberries
16 mint leaves
8 oz. bourbon
4 oz. fresh lime juice
4 12 oz. bottles lager beer (I used Baxter Brewing)
3 sliced limes

1. Arrange mint leaves in pairs in the bottom of a silicone bundt pan. Cover with 2 cups cranberries. Pour over 4 cups hot water; freeze overnight (the hot water will allegedly freeze clear; this did not happen to me). 

2. Combine shrub, bourbon, and lime juice in a large punch bowl; stir to combine. Unmold frozen ice ring and float in punch; top with beer and sliced limes.

Makes about 3 quarts

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Bar Food? Paper Plates, Plastic Wrappers and Regret

As last week’s Nor’easter reminded us, baby, it’s cold outside. Fortunately, Portland’s plethora of bars and restaurants offer hours of indoor entertainment. Drinking on an empty stomach is never a good idea (as hard lessons learned in college will attest), but many Portland bars tend towards $14 cocktails and $8-10 small plates to accompany them. A happy hour for two can quickly turn into a $100 meal—certainly not a sustainable pace until spring.  

Fortunately, even the grittiest bar is legally required to serve some sort of food. Specifically, Maine liquor laws require that “Class A Lounges must offer food for sale during all times they are serving liquor.” The law goes on to elaborate, specifically that salads, hamburgers, and hotdogs are in, but popcorn, chips, or pretzels are out. So two friends and I set out to explore the cheaper side of drinking and snacking through Portland.  

On a recent quiet Saturday night, couples at the Snug played card games and swapped real-life ghost stories. For a while, the Snug kept its customers satisfied with stiff drinks, soft pretzels, and black bean burgers. Back then—during what I refer to as “the Glory Days”—bar staff allowed customers to bring in slices from neighboring OTTO Pizza. Last December, the Snug’s owner Margaret Lyons revealed a relatively extensive menu offering vegetarian pub fare.  

We ordered mixed drinks ($6), but found that the expletive-laced menu was gone. My friend mourned the loss of the opportunity to consume an entire sleeve of Ritz crackers and a block of cheese in public. Undeterred, I ordered a soft pretzel, now made by South Portland bakery Little Bigs ($2), over the two tempting soup options: carrot ginger and creamy tomato with homemade croutons ($6). The pretzel was perfectly serviceable, salty and chewy, with a small side of yellow mustard for dipping.  

Buoyed by our success at the Snug, we plunged into the frigid November night air and headed through the quiet East End streets to Sangillo’s. Figuring we’d at least find sustenance in the form of Jell-O (shots), we were warmly welcomed into the neighborhood bar. Spying a hot dog warmer, we asked about the food options, and with a laugh, the bartender offered up a surprisingly diverse selection of Hot Pockets, corn dogs, and pizza. Figuring corn dogs pair best with tequila Jell-O, we went with two dogs and three shots, totaling $13. A squiggle of yellow mustard completed the package and before our systems could process what we’d done, we were back outside hailing a cab across town.  

Our first disappointment of the night came at Mathew’s, where we learned their cook was “out sick.” Portland’s oldest bar allegedly offers a small menu of hamburgers, chimichangas, and fried snacks like onion rings and jalapeno poppers, but admittedly no one’s there for the food. Our whiskey and ginger ales came in pint glasses for $7, and the friendly bouncer chatted with us while we sipped. But soon our hunger caused us to bid the sparse crowd at Mathew’s farewell.

We prowled the Old Port, sticking our heads in bars and asking, “got any food?” We heard recommendations for other area pubs, tales of frozen burritos labeled “in case of inspector,” pitches for karaoke, and were pointed to a lone rack of potato chips. Finally, exhausted from the search for hot dogs in dark places, we settled at Andy’s Old Port Tavern with a basket of popcorn and their full pub menu.

Eating at some of Portland’s oldest, classic, grittiest bars is comparable to hitting the freezer case of the 7-11 on your way home after a bender: not something you’d do in broad daylight, but satisfying, albeit sodium-laden. This winter, consider visiting bars you might not otherwise frequent, but eat at your own risk.  

The Snug Pub | 223 Congress Street | daily, 5 pm-1 am
Sangillo’s Tavern | 18 Hampshire Street | daily, 8 am-1 am
Mathew’s Pub | 133 Free Street | daily, 10 am-1 am
Commercial Street Pub | 129 Commercial Street | 10:30 am-1 am

Originally published in DigPortland on December 10, 2014.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

A Not-At-All Comprehensive Maine Food Lover's Gift Guide

UPDATE: The giveaway winner is Anne! I randomly chose commenter #1 (the first commenter) as the winner of the Islandport Garden Harvest calendar. Thank you to everyone who entered and remember, Islandport Press is offering 20% off their beautiful calendar today and tomorrow. 

How's your holiday shopping coming? I am about...halfway through. No, that's not true at all. I had a meltdown at the grocery store in the pet aisle yesterday about my budget. So! That is to say, there's still some shopping to be done in my world. 

I know the internet is rife with gift guides (the annual, and very comprehensive, gift guide from Alex Steed and one from DigPortland), but I have a few things worth suggesting, so I'm going to throw my hat into the ring as well. 

Electric Rice Cooker
Great for: 20somethings, busy people, appliance lovers, and known terrible rice preparers

Vrylena has a rice cooker, and she's always singing it's praises. I thought I'd let her speak about her thoughts on the matter, as I know she has many. I'm very excited to have Vrylena's witty prose on the blog, asterisk note and all!

"The rice cooker is controversial appliance.* I myself was a doubter, until I ended up with this incredibly cheap rice cooker and it changed my life. Suddenly we had rice with all sorts of meals that were intended to be served with rice. Curries, teriyaki salmon, middle eastern lentils. Brown rice with everything! Or white rice! Rice with little bits of ginger! Rice not cemented to the bottom of my pot because apparently I AM incapable of cooking a decent pot of rice on my own. I could start the rice before I went to pick up my kid from daycare, and it was done in time for his meal with little to no effort on my part. 

It came with a little chart outlining the amount of water you'd use for each type of rice. It was basically made from tin foil and glue. I loved it. And then I dropped the little bowl and it dented horribly and didn't work again.

I bought a slightly more expensive version that's terrible. It's this one. It doesn't have a little chart, it just says it cooks all types of rice. What that means is that I have to make my own little chart through trial and error and dry undercooked rice. The steamer tray is useless. 

What I'm saying is that my first rice cooker is my rosebud, and I long for her.

In any case, if you get someone a rice cooker as a gift, you should also give them a copy of Roger Ebert's The Pot and How to Use It: The Mystery and Romance of the Rice Cooker.

* Maybe just to white people? Every Korean family I've met has one with apparently zero angst."

Cast Iron Bacon Press
Great for: bacon lovers (duh), outdoorsy types who love cast iron, no-frills cooks

My boss suggested this item. It's a square of cast iron with a handle that is designed to help create flat bacon. At first glance, it falls into the useless, one-trick pony kitchen gadget category, and is something I'd probably dismiss in the store.

But in addition to flat bacon, the bacon press also acts a panini press! So if you know someone who loves grilled, melty sandwiches and has a corresponding love for cast iron pans, this is for them. 

Cost: $15-20, available at Williams-Sonoma, Bed, Bath & Beyond, and probably LeRoux Kitchen

Portland Food Co-op Membership
Great for: broke family/friends, super crunchy types, Portland peninsula-dwellers...everyone really

The Portland Food Co-op is in full swing in it's new retail location that's open to the public. Now that everyone's had a chance to peek in this market and see how great it is (even if you don't agree, it's working out the kinks, and they welcome feedback), give a membership to someone that you know might enjoy it, but wouldn't necessarily purchase for themselves. Those are the best kinds of gifts! My friend got me a membership for my birthday, so I can personally attest how great it feels to be on the receiving end of this gift. Membership benefits include access to special sales and (eventual) member-owner rebates.

Cost: $100

Local Artist's Calendar
Great for: practical friends, not-so-close relatives, locavores, perpetually late friends (just kidding, don't do that), art lovers

Everyone needs a calendar for 2015 - but even if they don't, a calendar of local artists' prints will ensure that your gifts gets hung up and admired. I frequently grab Dana Heacock's 4x6 calendars at Abacus Gallery (I love that they come pre-wrapped), and my friend Tessa Greene O'Brien has created a calendar out of her beautiful paintings of New England swimming holes

If you know an extreme locavore, really impress them with Teresa Lagrange's "Garden Harvest" calendar from Islandport Press. The beautiful illustrations are from the cookbook Always in Season by Elise Richer. OK, so it's a local artist, painting local vegetables, in a cookbook about eating locally, published by a Maine publisher. Bam! 

Exciting news: Islandport Press is giving away a copy to one Blueberry Files reader; see below for details on how to enter to win.  

Cost: free to the giveaway winner! $19.95, plus a 20% discount given if purchased on Wednesday 12/17 and Thursday 12/18. 

Hope these suggestions trigger something if you're stumped for a gift idea! I'm looking forward to seeing my loved ones enjoy the gifts I've gotten them (ahem, will get them). 

Giveaway details: 
To enter to win one "Garden Harvest" 2015 calendar: Comment on this post with your best gift for a foodie in your life. I will randomly choose a winner tomorrow 12/17/14 and update this post with the winner and details on how to claim your prize. 

Giveaway open to US and Canadian residents only. Giveaway begins at midnight on 12/16 and ends at midnight on 12/17. 

Disclosure: Islandport Press gave me two calendars - one review copy and one to giveaway. No other compensation was given. 

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

"From Scratch," Maine Food Workshops + Cranberry Granola Recipe

We're trying something different with our educational programming at work with our new workshop series, From Scratch: Your Maine Kitchen. After the great success of food blogger and author Marisa McLellan's of Food in Jars demonstration in August, we hope to keep the momentum rolling with cookbook authors and local experts presenting on various Maine foods.

So far, we've had two workshops; in November's "From the Maine Wild," author Kate Krukowski Gooding talked about cooking with wild game and prepared a delicious beaver Bourguignon. The recipe is in her most recent cookbook, 50 Ways to Eat a Beaver (and don't worry, she is aware of the wink, wink meaning of the title!). 

Master Food Preserver Karyn Small, who owns Butcher Boys Deer Cutting in Bowdoin, talked about preparing venison and offered samples of her venison jerky. There were a fair amount of hunters in the class, but as someone who doesn't hunt, I loved being able to try wild meats like beaver and deer. 

I taught December's workshop, with my friend and Master Food Preserver Allison Carroll Duffy making an appearance to promote her cookbook, Preserving with Pomona's Pectin. We made one of Allison's recipes, spiced cranberry pear jam, in this Holiday Gifts from the Kitchen class. Running with the cranberry theme, we also made cranberry granola (recipe below), and a cranberry pilaf mix in a jar. The gifts together would make a lovely basket for a friend or, individually, great host/ess gifts at holiday parties. 

Next month, Saturday, January 17th, we have friend of Extension Sheri Fistal teaching us how to make sourdough bread. We'll be baking bread, and everyone will go home with some sourdough starter. Michael Scholz, the miller at Maine Grains, will also be there to tell us all about flour and how it relates to baking - sourcing, storing, different kinds, gluten levels, etc. 

In February, we're learning about winter seafood and seaweed. We've got three instructors lined up: Barton Seaver, a local cookbook author and sustainable seafood expert; Hillary Krapf, seaweed enthusiast; and Maine Sea Grant's Sarah Redmond. I'm looking forward to seeing what "seaweed comfort food" recipes Hillary serves up. 

Other From Scratch topics include "Weird" Maine Fermentables (goat's milk yogurt, water kefir, and tempeh) in March, Maine Cheese Pairings in April, Maine Foraging in May, and Drinking the Harvest (Fall 2015). Workshops are Saturdays from 10am to 1pm and cost $40. Registration is available online. Hope to see you!

Maine Cranberry Granola
Yield: 6 cups

5 cups Maine Grains rolled oats (available at Whole Foods)
1/3 cup coconut oil
1/3 cup honey or maple syrup
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg 
1/2 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup pecans (or any nuts you like)
1/3 cup sunflower seeds
1/3 cup pepitas (roasted pumpkin seeds)
1-1/2 cups dried cranberries   

Preheat oven to 300°F. Coat cookie sheet with cooking spray. Combine all ingredients, except dried fruit, on cooking sheet. Bake for 30-35 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes.

Once cooled, add the dried fruit and mix well. Store in an airtight container. 

Monday, December 1, 2014

Holiday Visit to Wiggly Bridge Distillery, York

Last Wednesday, I daytripped down to York, Maine and had a delightful peek into the spirited life and business of the Woods family. Dave, his son David, and daughter-in-law Amanda run Wiggly Bridge Distillery on the main strip in York. The town was quiet when we arrived, all shuttered for winter, although the faint smell of popcorn still wafted on the cold air. Woods later remarked that you could "fall asleep in the middle of the street," this time of year. 

Wiggly Bridge Distillery is in a small storefront on Railroad Ave. in York, otherwise surrounded by a hair salon, t-shirt, taffy, and popcorn shops. The Woodses have been making and selling their spirits from their storefront since July, with a homemade still and self-taught knowledge on making bourbon, whiskey, and rum. 

David and Dave make two whiskeys currently: a white (or unaged) whiskey and "Baby Bourbon" whiskey, aged 10 months. Other whiskeys have been tucked into charred oak barrels and are currently aging, some to be opened as soon as January 2015, others at least not until 2016. There's two rums as well, a white rum and an aged rum, with an extra-aged rum almost ready for bottling. 

We plunked down on some bags of grain and chatted with the Woods family about their arduous work of opening a distillery on the main street of a town that banned state-owned agency liquor stores in the late 80s. Woods now operates under a craft distilling license, allowing him to produce a certain number of gallons annually and sell them out of his retail shop that also stocks plenty of Wiggly Bridge Distillery swag. 

Owning several service-based businesses, like car washes, a campground and a salon, Dave found himself for the first time producing stuff, something to stock on shelves and sell. But his background designing and modifying car wash equipment gave him an advantage when he decided to build his own copper still (while on vacation in Montserrat, naturally - why not take advantage of the local knowledge of Caribbean rum?). 

I was particularly impressed by the sheer amount of perseverance Dave displayed in his pursuit of opening the distillery, from slogging through federal code books 5 inches thick to installing new sprinkler systems to bring his storefront up to code to honing his skills to create quality spirits. 

Quiet street in York, Wiggly Bridge Distillery 2 blocks down on the right

Before we left, we had to sample the stuff, of course. We tried the 2 whiskeys and 2 rums currently for sale, as well as a preview of the barrel-aged rum that will be ready next year. Unaged spirits are a bit hard for me to drink on their own, but I could see that the corn whiskey would add a unique taste to cocktails; Dave recommends it in a Bloody Mary in place of vodka. 

The Baby Bourbon was my favorite, and a bottle came home with me for the holiday the next day ($39.99 for a 350ml bottle). At only 10 months old, it's remarkably smooth, with a great balance of warm flavors like cinnamon, but some remaining spiciness from the rye mash. Before we left, Dave mixed us up a sample of a Marmalade Manhattan, recipe below. I typically do not go-to Manhattans, as I find them to be too boozy and too sweet. Serving this one over ice, as opposed to neat, still gives nice citrus and spice flavors, but results in a drink that is much less "stiff" that the traditional one.

Wiggly Bridge's products are slowly making their way into Portland bars, but can be found at the distillery, 19 Railroad Ave. York, from 12-7PM, Thurs-Sun. 

Marmalade Manhattan
From Wiggly Bridge Distillery

1 tsp. orange marmalade
1 oz. Wiggly Bridge Baby Bourbon
2 oz. sweet vermouth
generous dash of blood orange bitters

Add marmalade and whiskey to cocktail shaker. “Melt” marmalade with whiskey by swirling shaker. Add ice and remaining ingredients to shaker. Shake vigorously, strain into a rocks glass filled with ice.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Pressure Canning Chicken Stock

Since I am apparently in the business of posting useful holiday cooking tips (see my annual Portland Turkey Guide), here's a quickie about canning your own chicken or turkey stock. You'll likely have a turkey carcass next week, so pop it in the freezer or, if you're not sick of elaborate kitchen projects, into the slow cooker to make and can a flavorful stock that is shelf-stable and about a quarter of the price of store-bought.  

Vrylena and I worked together to can this stock, but we each made our own stock separately, which explains the color difference of the jars pictured above. I bought a rotisserie chicken, picked and saved the meat, then used the carcass to make my stock. I also added homegrown parsley, onions and celery, and some store bought carrots and garlic. V. used veggies and a leftover carcass as well as some raw turkey wings chicken parts. 

After a rough chop, all the vegetables went into the crockpot with the bird, I covered it with water, and let it cook overnight. (Note: because my crockpot is not large enough to hold 4 quarts of water and all the flavoring ingredients, I used as much water as would fit and then diluted the resulting stock with water until I had 4 quarts.)

Poultry stock needs to be pressure canned for safety because it's a low-acid food (with a pH of > 4.6). That means botulism spores can survive the boiling water process and potentially grow into the toxin that can be fatal if left untreated. So very much to be avoided. Pressure canning is very easy, although slightly unnerving until you get used to it (and even after you do, steps of it maybe still so).

Pour the hot stock into quart jars, leaving 1-inch headspace. Wipe the rims of the jar, and apply dome lids and screw bands until fingertip tight. Place into the canner and fill the canner with 3 quarts of boiling water (or the amount specified in your canners owners' manual). Apply the locking lid and properly vent canner (as per the instructions).

Process quarts for 25 minutes at 10 pounds of pressure with a weighted gauge or 11 pounds in a dial gauge. After processing time, let canner cool completely, remove lid, and remove jars. Let cool on the counter, undisturbed, for 12 to 24 hours. Refrigerate or freeze any jars that do not seal.

We were left with 4 quarts and 5-1/2 quarts each and were very satisfied without canning project. The whole thing probably cost me $10 for 4 quarts and at most an hour of active preparation. I highly recommend it. 

Happy Thanksgiving!

Read more on the pressure canning process in Pressure Canning: Beets and from the National Center for Home Food Preservation

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Portland Thanksgiving Turkey Options

Ah, meat. The epicenter of the local food dilemma. On one side, you could argue that meat should not be cheap. On the other side, you have your desire to serve a huge, perfectly-roasted, glistening bird that will satisfy all of your guests, with plenty of leftovers for the next day. Somewhere lost in all of that is the financial reality that locally-raised or organic meat simply costs more than the unethical alternative. 

But float the idea that people should buy a $150+ turkey for one meal, and some will level charges of elitism, losing touch with reality/the working man, or just straight-up snobbery. To that, I say, do we really want to be eating $.99/pound meat? If we're really going to go on a guilt trip, I could ask is that really how we want to spend our holiday dedicated to gratitude, friends and family - eating inexpensive, inhumanely-raised animals?

Now that I've placed all my biases on the harvest table, let's break down your options for a Thanksgiving turkey in the greater Portland area. We'll see if we can find something that satisfies our desire to treat the animals we raise for food humanely, while not ruining our monthly dining budget simply to alleviate our carnivore's guilt. 

Wolfe's Neck Farm free-range turkeys

As I detailed in my recent Portland Phoenix column, Let's talk turkey, the turkeys from area farms live the best life - free-range, plenty of space, and fed Maine-grown, GMO-free, and/or organic feed. They live their short little turkey lives on a nice farm, pecking at bugs, and free from any worries about predators or crowded conditions. 

Wolfe's Neck Farm's turkeys (pictured above) are free range, meaning they have access to the outdoors, and they're fed GMO-free, Maine grains. The turkeys are $5 per pound (available in 15-20 lbs. and 20+ lbs.) and need to be preordered. Visit their website to pre-order turkeys, and if you're going this route, do it soon, since they will sell out. 

Other farms in the area that offer Thanksgiving turkeys are Frith Farm in Scarborough (organic, $5/lb.), Serendipity Acres (organic, $4.99/lb.), and Mainely Poultry ($4.29/lb). The latter two are sold at Rosemont Market on Commercial Street and need to be ordered by 11/20. A $10 deposit is required at the time of order and the turkeys are available for pick-up on 11/25 and 11/26. 

Chefs at LeRoux Kitchen on Commercial Street will be preparing turkeys from Rosemont Market for sampling today from 1-4pm, so stop in to see if the free-range, local turkeys taste is worth the added expense. They will also be pouring wines that pair well with Thanksgiving foods. 

Turkeys now available at Trader Joe's

Trader Joe's turkeys are available today until the holiday (the store will be closed on Thanksgiving). As usual, TJ's has two options for turkeys: "all-natural," brined at $1.99/lb. (available in 12-22 lbs.) and Kosher at $2.49/lb. (also available in 12-22 lbs.). 

The turkeys at Trader Joe's are sold fresh, not frozen, and are marketed as "all-natural," which according to the grocer means they are high-quality hens fed a vegetarian diet, and never given antibiotics or added growth hormones (the USDA prohibits the use of growth hormones in turkeys anyway). 

The turkeys are raised on farms in California, Minnesota, and Pennsylvania, but without any traceability provided to the consumer to verify the animals' living conditions. I've always been wary of Trader Joe's meat, because of lack of info surrounding their sources and at times, the too-good-to-be-true prices. But this is a good option if you are concerned about price and want antibiotic-free meat. 

At Shaw's, there are two options: Shady Brook Farms at $.49/lb. and Butterball at $1.29/lb. The turkeys range in size from 10-24 lbs. Despite the bucolic name, the Shady Brook Farms brand is owned by Cargill, the privately-held company that produces 22% of America's meat. The turkeys are raised all over the country, fed a vegetarian diet, and not given any hormones (USDA prohibited) or growth-promoting antibiotics (a new thing for this brand!). 

Frozen turkey landscape at Shaw's, Falmouth

Hannaford offered 4 turkeys at the time of publication, more may arrive by the holiday.
  • Marval (Cargill brand) at $1.49/lb.
  • Hannaford brand at $1.59/lb.
  • Butterball at $1.69/lb.
  • Nature's Place at $2.49/lb. ("all natural," i.e. no artificial ingredients are added)
Whole Foods Market offers a happy middle ground between locally-raised turkeys and affordable, yet mysteriously-sourced supermarket brands. Their store brand is from Jaindl Farms in Pennsylvania, which is the farm that raises the White House turkey. Multiple butchers recommended the Whole Foods turkey to me; it comes in plain ($2.49/lb.), brined (2.99/lb.), and organic ($3.99/lb.). All Jaindl Farm turkeys are free-range, fed vegetarian feed, and never given antibiotics. 

Whole Foods uses the independent, non-profit Global Animal Partnership's 5-Step Animal Welfare Rating Standards. This rating indicates to consumers the conditions in which the animals are raised, with a 5 being the highest rating. Most of Whole Foods' turkeys are rated at Step 1, which means the animals are not raised in crowded conditions, no cages, and a myriad other requirements that pertain to the treatment of the animals, employee training, medicine, euthanasia, and on and on. You can read the requirements for each level. The Jaindl Farms organic turkeys are rated Step 3, which means they are also provided 2 different kinds of enrichment in their pen (turkey toys?). 

Also available are a heritage breed ($3.99/lb.), a farm-raised turkey from Misty Knoll in Vermont ($4.99/lb.), Kosher turkeys ($2.99/lb.), free-range birds from Plainville ($2.99/lb.), and run-of-the-mill Rancher ($1.89/lb.). All of the turkeys offered here are fed vegetarian feed and never given antibiotics or hormones (USDA prohibited). They are all also frozen and come in a wide range of sizes. 

Turkeys chillin' at Whole Foods, Portland
I called Sam's Club in Scarborough and they are selling their store brand frozen turkeys for $.99/lb. A membership is required to shop. (I called BJ's Wholesale Club, but no one answered.)

In the name of getting this post up, I am going to stop here, but I have a few more sources coming and will update this post. Please share in the comments if you know of other deals or local farms offering turkeys. Happy holidays!

Turkeys priced highest to lowest:

  1. Wolfe's Neck Farm, $5/lb. - order by phone or online
  2. Frith Farm organic, $5/lb. - order by phone or online
  3. Serendipity Acres, $4.99/lb. - order through Rosemont Market
  4. Misty Knoll Farms, $4.99/lb. - available at Whole Foods Market 
  5. Valley View Farm, $4.50/lb. - available at the Falmouth/Cumberland Farmers' Market
  6. Mainely Poultry, $4.29/lb. - available at Rosemont Market or $4.50/lb. through K.Horton's
  7. Koch's Turkey Farm heirloom variety, $3.99/lb. - available at Whole Foods Market
  8. Jaindl Farms organic, $3.99/lb. - available at Whole Foods Market 
  9. Plainview Farms, $2.99/lb. - available at Whole Foods Market 
  10. Jaindl Farms brined, $2.99/lb. - available at Whole Foods Market
  11. Jaindl Farms, $2.49/lb. - available at Whole Foods Market
  12. Nature's Place at $2.49/lb. - available at Hannaford
  13. Trader Joe's store brand Kosher, $2.49/lb. 
  14. Trader Joe's store brand brined, $1.99/lb. 
  15. Butterball, $1.69/lb. - available at Hannaford and Shaw's ($1.29/lb.)
  16. Hannaford brand, $1.59/lb.
  17. Marval, $1.49/lb. - available at Hannaford 
  18. Sam's Club brand, $.99/lb.
  19. Shady Brook Farms, $.49/lb. - available at Shaw's

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Let's talk turkey: the best bird for your dollar

Wolfe Neck’s Farm’s livestock manager Ben Jensen is not very happy with the condition of the ground in the turkey pen, thick with mud after last week’s constant rain. He plots ways to dry it out while the turkeys squelch around happily, wandering over to the fence to peck idly at our jacket hems. Jensen is responsible for getting the 300 broad-breasted bronze turkeys he’s been caring for since July to slaughter in a few weeks. The turkeys are in the home stretch, still gobbling and pecking at bugs and their troughs of organic, GMO-free, Maine-grown grain.

Undeniably, this is the best life for a Thanksgiving turkey. On a beautiful fall day, the sunlight glints off the nearby Harraseeket River. The farm’s 2 pet bunnies hop around contentedly. Chickens skitter in and out of a neighboring pen, while the cows watch placidly from across the road. The turkeys live in two large, open-sided greenhouses that protect them from predators, but still allow them to explore the pasture. Jensen hand feeds the birds twice a day and says they live an existence of which we’re both jealous, just eating, hanging out, and sleeping.

This luxurious lifestyle comes at a cost. When I ask how much he’s charging for the turkeys, Jensen confesses he felt guilty setting the price at $5 per pound. The birds range in size from the smaller 15-20 pounds up to 30 pounds. At the largest weight, a turkey could potentially cost $150. Ultimately though, Jensen has to cover the expense of renting a refrigerated truck to transport the turkeys from West Gardiner, after their fateful trip to Weston’s Meat Cutting. The organic, GMO-feed he buys by the truckload isn’t cheap either (while the turkeys are raised organically, they are not certified as such, because they’re not processed in a certified organic facility).

But the pricing of Wolfe’s Neck Farm’s turkeys in on par with other area farms offering a similar product. Farmers at Frith Farm in Scarborough, Serendipity Acres in Yarmouth, and Warren’s Mainely Poultry are all selling their all-natural, free-range turkeys in the $4-5 per pound range. Turkeys from Wolfe’s Neck Farm and Frith Farms can be ordered directly through the farm, while Rosemont Market is taking orders for Mainely Poultry and Serendipity Acres.

Whole Foods Market offers less expensive options, but there’s no option for a trip to the farm to see how your holiday table’s centerpiece spends its days. Instead, the organic grocer uses non-profit Global Animal Partnership’s Animal Welfare Rating Standards. The market’s butchers recommend the Whole Foods turkey, raised by Jaindl Farms in Pennsylvania and sold under the store’s brand. Here, only organically-certified ($3.99 per pound) comes close to the conditions achieved at a local farm, with a “Step 3” rating (5 being the best), meaning no crowding, an enriched environment, and access to the outdoors. To be fair, even a “Step 1” rating is more than your average factory poultry farm achieves.

Eyeing the turkeys at Hannaford that cost $.99 per pound? Wondering if paying 4 to 5 times that is worth it? After all, the price difference for a locally-raised, free-range bird should do more than assuage one’s guilt about eating a living thing, it should offer a noticeable difference in taste as well. Avoid any buyer’s remorse by sampling some Mainely Poultry and Serendipity Acres turkey at LeRoux Kitchen on Commercial Street on November 15th at 1p.m. Pick up turkey roasting tips, sample some wines to pair with traditional Thanksgiving foods, and see for yourself how those happy turkeys taste. If you’re convinced, head down to Rosemont Market on Commercial Street’s butcher shop to order a bird afterward. The turkeys sell out fast.

Rosemont Market & Bakery | 5 Commercial Street | 207-699-4560 |

Wolfe’s Neck Farm | 184 Burnett Road, Freeport | 207-865-4469 |

Originally published in the Portland Phoenix on November 5, 2014

Monday, November 10, 2014

BBF Travels: Anju Noodle Bar, Black Birch, Kittery

Our upcoming "Friendsgiving" dinner prompted a trip to the New Hampshire state-run liquor store last weekend to stock up on booze for the party. To liven up the otherwise mundane trip, we stopped in Kittery to explore their expanding dining scene. 

Our first destination was The Black Birch. I'd previously only been for happy hour snacks, so I was looking forward to exploring the menu further. But at 6PM on a Saturday, the place was packed and we could barely even get into the restaurant to give our names to the hostess. A two-hour long wait for a table put us back on the street, wondering where to go in the meantime. 

I knew that since my last visit in April, Anju Noodle Bar had opened next to the Black Birch, so we walked around the corner to see what we could find. Anju was indeed just a block down, in a cute stretch that also contained the new custom cuts butcher shop from former Rosemont Market butcher Jarrod Spangler; an adorable art, jewelry, and housewares gallery; and Lil's Cafe, whose crullers have found a permanent spot in the back of my mind. 

After some window shopping, we went into Anju and were surprised to find plenty of seats available. We were seated along the windows at a bar and ordered some wine and beer, while we waited for our table to be cleared. The space is bright (well, in the daytime at least) and airy, with plenty of bar seating and a few larger tables. There's a few minimalist pieces of art and some air plants hanging on the large, white walls. 

The menu offers plenty of mouthwatering ramen, but we stuck to the Bites/Apps section, so as to not completely ruin our appetites for our meal at the Black Birch. Despite our best efforts at restraint, we still managed to order most everything from the appetizers. 

Of course, the steamed pork bun ($6) was necessary, a few to share even, and the okonomiyaki ($12) or egg pancake with shrimp and pork belly, topped with Kewpie mayo and bonito flakes. We tried to order two, but realized that was probably overkill. Our helpful server recommended a dish we had overlooked, the cabbage and mushrooms ($8). It ended up being a favorite, a great, savory mix of crunchy red cabbage and sauteed local mushrooms. 


The rice cakes ($10) were another great dish that surprised us; I didn't figure I'd be a huge fan, with the addition of Chinese Five Spice to the duck confit, served over mushrooms and two sticky rice cakes, but I was mistaken. 

We actually tried to order the Thai coconut lemongrass soup too ($7), but it didn't make it into our order and by the time we realized it wasn't coming, we also realized we didn't need it. Coincidentally, the same service hiccup happened at the Black Birch too, in that we ordered a slew of dishes to share and two didn't arrive, but that was fine by us by the time we realized. (I think that taking orders without writing them down is fine...until it's not.) 

That aside, we loved Anju Noodle Bar and would frequent this place all.the.time if we lived in Kittery. The atmosphere was quieter and calmer than neighboring Black Birch and would offer a nice spot to eat a comforting bowl ramen solo at the bar or share several plates with friends at a table, as we did. Our meal was shockingly inexpensive; the whole thing was less than $115, including tax, tip, and a bottle of wine (less than $30 each for 4 of us). 

After a constitutional stroll down the main drag of Kittery Foreside, we stopped back into the still-crowded Black Birch to see how our reservation was coming along. We still had a short wait, so we were seated in the back hallway and offered drink menus. 

Every drink on Black Birch's speciality cocktail list was so tempting that I took forever to decide. Eventually, I was drawn in by the weirdness that was Flowers for Algernon: Old Overholt Rye, Fernet Branca, lavender syrup, house tonic, and lime. Somehow, the spicy, medicinal, floral, sweet, and tart ingredients all worked so well together. 

After our drinks were delivered, we were led to our table - a communal hightop in the middle of the busy, busy restaurant. We settled in between some ladies who were, "so excited to go home, drink wine, and smoke cigarettes," and a family...who was probably not going to do that after they got home. 

We again, tackled the menu with vigor, ordering American classics like deviled eggs ($3), house pickles ($3), and Buffalo chicken mac and cheese ($8). Some chicken liver mousse ($5) and duck confit poutine ($9) made our order a little more international, while a beet salad ($10) added some virtue. 

The trio of deviled egg halves came quickly, topped with popcorn and Lawry's seasoned salt, sofrito and chorizo, and sweet potato and toasted marshmallow. Fortunately, one member of our party doesn't like mustard, so there was less competition for the eggs. The group's favorite was the toasted marshmallow, which sounds totally weird, but worked, with the burnt sugar contrasting the sweet potato and rich egg. 

The chicken liver mousse came in a 4 oz. jelly jar and topped with a thin layer of grape jelly. It was so rich and creamy; it disappeared quickly. The salad was up next, a fresh mix of arugula, beets, and carrots, dressed with a zippy pineapple vinaigrette. Of course, the Black Birch kitchen found a way to make even a salad have a decedent spin, topping it with a pistachio tuile or thin candy-like wafer of hardened sugar, butter, and nuts.

The poutine was a lovely mess of crispy fries, savory gravy, melted cheese, and duck confit. But as we neared the end of this eating extravaganza, we realized our palates were being assaulted by this extremely salty dish. Uh oh, were we beginning to see that the Emperor wasn't wearing any clothes? 

Poutine from an earlier (daytime) visit

Fortunately, the pickles and mac and cheese didn't make it to our table; we had thrown in the eating flag by then anyway. 

Our bill at the Black Birch was comparable to that at Anju, and we were again astounded by all the incredible food we'd just eaten at such reasonable prices. We felt that if these restaurants were in Portland, each dish would have been a few dollars more.

Next time you head to Kittery, for some outlet shopping or on your way out of state, stop by the Kittery Foreside and check out Anju Noodle Bar and the Black Birch. If you time it right, you could have lunch at Anju, shop in Folk and MEat, have treats at Lil's Cafe, and happy hour at the Black Birch. Good luck fitting all that into your belly though! 

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

MECA Mixology and Maine Brewers' Guild Beer School

Writing a book about the history of alcohol and drinking Maine has lead to a lot of jokes about all the "research" I have to do. I have lots of people volunteering to be my "research" assistants (always with the air quotes). 

Recently, I went for some actual research (but still with the perk of drinking) to John Myers' Mixology course, offered through MECA's Culinary Arts Continuing Studies. Myers currently works at the Portland Hunt & Alpine Club and is one of, if not the, most knowledgeable bartenders in Portland. 

John Myers at Portland Hunt & Alpine on a Sunday afternoon

Myers started out by saying that he'd structured the class like an art history class, "from cave drawings to the modern weirdos." After a short history of early American drinking habits (a lot of cider, rum) we delved into the first time a cocktail was defined. First appearing in a New York newspaper in 1806, the cocktail was described as "spirits of any kind, sugar, water, and bitters." None of us guessed the answer, but that definition also describes the recipe for an Old Fashioned and thus, our first drink of the course. 

In 1862 flair-pioneering bartender Jerry Thomas published the first cocktail book, The Bartenders Guide (during the Civil War?? Baller). Outside of recipes for drinks titled [liquor] cocktails (a la Gin Cocktail, Fancy Brandy Cocktail, etc.), Thomas' book contains recipes for flips, slings, punch, juleps, mules, and toddies - all things we consider cocktails today. 

Thomas illustrating how to make a Blue Blazer, where flaming Scotch is poured
from mug to mug to give the appearance of "a continued stream of liquid fire."

Harry Johnson's book came next in 1900, with specific information on how to run a bar properly and how to bartend, rather than focusing on drink recipes. Johnson is credited with inventing the Bijou, which means "gem" in French. We sipped the gin, vermouth, and chartreuse cocktail, as John explained that this was the first cocktail to be made in the Manhattan/martini style. 

The Bijou was interesting (strong) - I grimaced as I sipped it, while Myers described Chartreuse as tasting of "100 Christmas trees burning in your mouth, trying to decide which one's going to make you puke." I definitely could taste that assessment. 

After the "temperance weirdos" had their fun, we cruised into Prohibition, where John noted the drinks became a lot sweeter with the addition of fresh-squeezed fruit juices. These new cocktails were made to appease the tastes of young flapper girls in speakeasies, as well as to cover up the flavor of rough-hewn, illegal spirits. I must be one at heart, as our third drink appealed to me the most.

The Jack Rose, made with Laird's apple jack, lemon juice, and grenadine was pleasantly fruity, but tart rather than sweet like you might think. John stressed you must have good grenadine made from pomegranate juice, not red #40 and corn syrup. He recommends Powell & Mahoney's, available at LeRoux Kitchen in Portland or making your own. 

After the Jazz Age, the post-WWII cocktail scene saw the rise of the popularity of Tiki bars and culture. Ernest Raymond Beaumont Gantt, aka Donn Beach, a well-to-do beach bum arrived in Southern California post-Depression/Prohibition after spending time in the Hawaiian Islands. Donn opened a bar, tacked up some tiki masks he'd collected in his travels and Don the Beachcomber was born. He befriended the L.A. movie set and began serving them Mai Tais, a double rum, orange curacao, almond syrup cocktail. 

Alternatively, Vic Bergeron aka Trader Vic opened his Tiki bar in the San Francisco Bay area and invented the recipe...not for me to say. Either way, I learned about Creole Shrubb, an orange liqueur made in Martinique, and Rhum Agricole, a Martinique rum made from the first pressings of sugar cane, rather than from molasses made from the dregs of the sugar industry. Rhum agricole is more like wine in the way it's made (Martinique being a French colony after all) and has a lighter, grassy flavor. 

After the Mad Men martini era came the "weird" 70s, full of terrible drinks like Tequila Sunrise, Harvey Wallbanger, Grasshopper, Pink Lady, and of course, a Slow Comfortable Screw. The Golden Cadillac perfectly expresses all of that, mixing Galliano, Creme de Cacao, and cream. Dusted with a bit of grated chocolate, it's the epitome of weird, decedent, glam 70s cocktails. 

Our last stop was the modern weirdos, with the Fatigue, made from a full ounce of Jack Daniels, Luxardo, and Angostura bitters. On top of the full ounce of bitters (note most recipes call for a dash), this drink is shaken, not stirred. A general rule (I learned) is that drinks containing milk, eggs, cream, sugar, and juice are shaken, while an all-spirits drink like the Fatigue is typically stirred. As you might guess, this drink is very medicinal tasting, but also tastes a bit like an Old Fashioned. Aaaaand full circle - see what he did there? Very clever. 

OK, so it being the middle of the day, 6 1-oz. samples of these mostly-liquor cocktails had me a bit bent. But I know it wasn't the liquor talking to say I thoroughly enjoyed this course. John is very entertaining and put together a great syllabus that was a fascinating mix of American history, art, culture, and even architecture. The context he provided was everything. I only hope I can come close to something like that in my book!

Final anecdote: as the class was winding down, a woman asked John, did you go to bartending school? and without missing a beat, he shot back, did you go to walking school? The man clearly enjoys his work behind the bar and it shows. John can be found at the Portland Hunt & Alpine Club where he might give you a mini-lesson if you show yourself to be an interested student. 

And speaking of school, I also attended the Maine Brewers' Guild's inaugural Freshman Orientation as part of Portland Beer Week. Held at Coffee By Design on Diamond Street, the 12 breweries that opened in 2014 conducted an orientation for attendees, pouring samples of their beer and giving us their elevator pitch. 

At first glance, I thought it sounded like way too formal of an event for a casual beer enthusiast like myself. I imagined hardcore questioning of brewers by home brewers and beer nerds. But after the event kicked off, I quickly realized I was at an under-the-radar beer festival. The crowd was smaller; we separated ourselves into groups of 10 or so and spent about 10 minutes with each brewery before rotating. 

I loved being able to try beers from Barreled Souls in Saco, Tributary in Kittery, Tumbledown in Farmington and SoMe in York. It's hard to motivate for a road trip to a brewery (that pesky drinking and driving thing), so I'm glad they came to me! The other freshmen breweries were Austin Street (Portland), Banded Horn (Biddeford), Bigelow Brewing (Skowhegan), Bissell Brothers (Portland), Foundation (Portland), Gneiss (Limerick), Hidden Cove (Wells), and Lively Brewing (Brunswick). 

No pics from the event, was just enjoying it - but our cute Maine Brewers' Guild glasses with my Maine Love print

As the event kicked off, Sean Sullivan from the Maine Brewers' Guild announced Beer School. These events are designed to connect the interested public with industry professionals to learn about beer production, marketing, history, and tasting. Some courses may sound like they're for brewing professionals, like the Art of Blending Barrels and the Perfect Cask. But really, they're all educational and open to the public, with plenty of samples to help you learn through experience. 

I cannot wait for Sprucing with Banded Horn Brewing on Memorial Day weekend next year - learning to harvest spruce tips in Etna (checks map...damn, that's near Bangor, hmm, maybe not) and then enjoying homemade barbecue and beer. Sounds so cool. I guess I have a lot of "research" to do after all. 

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Raise a glass to Prohibition's influence

Originally published in the Portland Phoenix on October 11, 2014

Watching the weekend revelry unfold on Wharf Street in the Old Port, it’s hard to envision the time when drinking in Portland was illegal and covert. But that was indeed the reality for 82 years in Maine, under the “noble experiment” that was the prohibition of the sale and manufacture of alcohol. Rather, defiant tipplers drank in private clubs, at times below street level, in back-room speakeasies. Today, Prohibition-era cocktails are making a comeback, especially in Portland, where bartenders shake up potent concoctions using local and house-made ingredients.

The phrase “Prohibition-era cocktails” may sound like an oxymoron, but much of what we see in today’s craft cocktail revival is actually borne of drinking during Prohibition. It might be easy to explain the recent elevation of bartending to an art form as an extension of the farm-to-table, from-scratch ethos that has gripped our national dining consciousness. No self-respecting cocktail bar would be complete today without fresh fruit, juice, and herbs; handmade syrups, and bitters; delicate glassware; and precisely-cut ice. Similarly, these ingredients were the hallmark of early twentieth-century cocktail culture before Prohibition attempted to stamp out the lively drinking scene.

On the quiet end of Wharf Street, the first-floor bar of Central Provisions is ground zero to explore these historic cocktails. In the recently renovated historic East India Trading Company warehouse (one that undoubtedly held shipments of alcohol during its heyday), Central Provisions’ creative bar menu offers twists on classic cocktails. Here, bar manager Patrick McDonald draws from “The Bartenders Guide,” the first American cocktail book, published in 1862 and written by Jerry Thomas, considered to be the father of American mixology.

Cocktails at Central Provisions, like the Real Georgia Mint Julep, Pisco Sidecar, Silver Fizz, and Cobbler, are modern spins on Thomas’s recipes that saw great popularity during Prohibition. To channel your inner flapper, order the Corpse Reviver #3.5, tweaked with bourbon replacing the classic brandy, and shaken up with puckering Campari, dry curaƧao (a liqueur similar to triple sec), and fresh-squeezed lemon juice. The result is a crisp, light-pink wake-up call, served “up” in a delicate coup glass.

Sonny’s well-rounded cocktail list offers several nods to ingredients and techniques popular before and during Prohibition. In No. 1 with a Bulleit, clouds of meringue-like foam top the bourbon cocktail, its tart lemon and lime juices tempered by simple syrup and fresh strawberries. Drink recipes began to call for the addition of egg whites in the late 1800s, where some vigorous shaking lends a rich texture to the final cocktail. Sipping on this delicate drink at Sonny’s bar, with its bank-vault-turned-wine-storage, one can imagine the lively scene in a Portland speakeasy.

At Portland Hunt & Alpine Club, where the menu provides historical tidbits about the featured cocktails, bartenders might coat your glass with an absinthe rinse or top your cocktail with float of Champagne before presenting it to you. These flourishes illustrate the lasting influence of Prohibition, during which absinthe was the darling of the young bohemian set, much to the consternation of prohibitionists. The backlash was so severe, that the ban on the sale of absinthe in the US was only recently lifted in 2007. French Champagne, like Canadian whiskey, appeared in many speakeasy drinks as it flowed into the country after American distilleries were shuttered.

Think these high-falutin’ cocktails are too much? Prefer to keep it simple with a gin and tonic or a Jack and ginger? You have Prohibition to thank for the popularity of tonic water and ginger beer as mixers as well. Because most illegally-distilled spirits were rough and cheap, so-called “bathtub gin,” flavorful tonic replaced soda water and ginger ale got stronger to mask the cheap liquor. Whatever your drink, celebrate your legal right to drink it freely and openly in one of Portland’s specialty cocktail bars reviving the lost art of bartending.

Central Provisions | 414 Fore St | 207.805.1085 |

Sonny’s | 83 Exchange St | 207.772.7774 |

Portland Hunt & Alpine Club | 75 Market St | 207.747.4754 |

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

First Look at Bao Bao Dumpling House

Yet another much-anticipated restaurant opened last night: Bao Bao Dumpling House at 133 Spring Street in Portland's West End. The small dumpling shop is the Portland outpost of Brunswick chef Cara Stadler of Tao Yuan

I went over early in the evening to check out the renovation of the former home of the West End Deli and to nosh on some dumplings - the perfect comfort food for the perma-storm we're having this week. The restaurant space looks much larger than when it was filled with dry goods, wine racks, and a deli counter. The decor is modern with black tables and chairs, industrial lights, and banquettes covered in fabric printed with flying dragons. One wall is dominated by a back-lit metal sculpture of a flying dragon. Pretty cool. 

After we were seated, our server left us with an extensive hot tea menu, and a food and drink menu. I dilly-dallied in picking my drink, so when the server returned, I ordered the first one my eyes landed on - a beet yuzu martini ($11). The other 10 speciality cocktails are Asian-twists on classics and tiki drinks, like a Sake-tini, a 5-Spice Pina Colada, Vic's Mai Tai, and a Scorpion Bowl for 2. 

My beautiful beet yuzu martini arrived quickly, and my first sip elicited such a reaction - puckered mouth, eyes shut, nose wrinkled up - that I completely forgot my sentence. My friend laughed hysterically at me, but then ended up making the exact same face after her sip. We both had a good laugh at each other. Turns out what I thought was simply a sugar rim, was a sugar SOUR rim, like what coats the Sour Patch Kids candies. I cleared a section of the glass and found an earthy, tart, surprisingly light cocktail. 

The menu is short and inexpensive - just a few starters and hot dishes, but mostly a selection of dumplings either boiled or pan-fried, at $6-8 for 6. To start, I ordered the black vinegar peanuts ($4) and the Asian slaw ($5). 

A large bowl of warm peanuts, softened by the black vinegar sauce, arrived soon for us, followed by the Asian slaw. We dug in with chopsticks, but I quickly switched to scooping peanuts up with my spoon. The peanuts were a nice starter, topped with cilantro and green onions, and threaded through with crunchy sticks of daikon radish. 

The salad was our favorite though - all the cabbage, peanuts, cilantro, and fried scallions, mixing together for a delightfully crunchy and fresh appetizer. 

We ordered two types of dumplings; while tempted by the lamb, black bean chili, peanut filling, as recommended by Rob at Eating Portland Alive, we went with the kung pau chicken and the pork and cabbage - fried, natch. 

We thought the chicken dumplings were a little plain; with a kung pau flavor, I expected some heat, but even the xo sauce on the table didn't get the spice level up there. The pork and cabbage, however, was delightfully savory and full of ginger. 

By the time we left Bao Bao, the 40-ish seat restaurant was full, with a few people waiting outside. Several people came into ask about take-out options (none yet). The restaurant never felt too loud or crowded, although we did clearly overhear our neighbors' conversation, so it's not the place for secret transactions. 

Rather, Bao Bao offers comforting Chinese delights, for which Portlanders seem eager. Check out Bao Bao Dumpling House (open for lunch at 11:30am and until 1am); I'll be back for those fun cocktails and to sample the many more flavors of dumplings. 

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Portland Birthday Eats & Party Spots

I enjoyed such a fantastic birthday last Friday, thanks to my Portland family. They must know I like a good party (it's that obvious!?) and so they pulled out all the stops. Just for regular ole 32 too - not much of a milestone or anything. But hey, maybe that's what you need on a random early-30s birthday. 

Of course, much of my birthday centered around eating. To prepare for our weekend canoe trip, I had to get up early Friday and schlep across town to help load up our canoe. My boyfriend enticed me out of bed with the promise of buying me breakfast at Hot Suppa. They open at 7am, so we enjoyed a nice early breakfast there. 

As I was deliberating between their breakfast burrito and the green tomato eggs benedict, A. pointed out the specials. I immediately decided on the grits and black bean chili topped with 2 poached eggs, cheddar, and green onions, and served with crispy tortillas. It was yet another stellar dish that illustrated the appeal of Hot Suppa. While on the surface, something like a breakfast burrito or this dish might not sound very extraordinary, they are always executed perfectly. The grits were the perfect consistency and temperature, not too gummy or cold. The chili was savory and well-salted. The eggs were poached perfectly, with solid whites and runny centers. While I haven't had much I didn't really enjoy at Hot Suppa, I've never had anything at breakfast that missed the mark

A few hours later, after some Old Port shopping with Original Roomie A., we decided an Eventide Oyster Co. lunch was in order. We sat at the bar and ordered some bourbon cocktails to start - the Kentucky Cyclist, made with bourbon, Bonal, Chartreuse, and a twist. After we asked about it, our bartender explained that Bonal is a French aperitif, that used to be enjoyed by cyclists during the Tour de France. The herbal wine softened the boozy edges of the bourbon; the lemon and Chartreuse brightened it all a bit. 

We sipped on our drinks and settled on two old standbys: the fried oyster bun and the chickpea fries. The soft buns, topped with crunchy pickled onions and radishes, sliced jalapenos and tomatoes, are reminiscent of eating fast food, if fast food didn't fill you with shame and give you a stomachache. The chickpea fries are crunchy and salty, cut by the accompanying tangy-sweet raisin mostarda. If you frequent Eventide and have always passed over the chickpea fries, be sure to order them next time. 

Another safe bet is anything from the specials board. We ordered the red snapper, with radish and seaweed, over a shmear of miso paste. Such a great mix of umami flavors from the miso, with fresh, crunchy radishes and sesame seeds, earthy seaweed, and fresh fish. I could close my eyes and order a special at Eventide, and it would always be a winner. 

Later in the evening, my friends threw me a fantastic birthday party at Salvage BBQ, one of our go-to places for great food in a relaxed atmosphere. Our party took over a corner of the huge restaurant, hung banners, blew noise-makers, and covered tables with trays of spent barbecue detritus. Everyone was able to mingle; order drinks and food at their own pace; and pay separately. No "table for 20," separate checks (nightmare), waiting for overwhelmed servers to return with a tray of 10 drinks, or fear that we were the loudest group in the restaurant. I've hosted several after-parties, birthdays, and meet-up groups at Salvage BBQ, and I consistently find it one of the best places in town to accommodate a large, informal group. 

The best part, if I could possibly pick one, was my birthday cake. My friends have really stepped it up for me in the birthday cake department in recent years (remember the cake that had my face stenciled on it in cocoa powder?!?). My friend A. who owns East End Cupcakes, made me this incredible cake cat. And then, to boot, of my favorite flavor of hers: chocolate cake with salted caramel buttercream frosting. Hello. Or should I say, meow. 

If you find yourself in charge of throwing a party to celebrate a loved one, I can't recommend Salvage BBQ enough. The large, loud space with counter service lends itself well to hosting parties where guests come and go. Similarly, Bayside Bowl is another great place to host large parties. Obviously, there's the bowling, and lanes can be reserved for parties. But the bar area offers plenty of seating at large picnic tables and couches, and the staff is also very gracious and accommodating. 

As proper restaurant patron etiquette would dictate, my friends called ahead and arranged with the restaurants staff to have a party, as well as to bring in an outside cake, rather than order dessert from the restaurant. It's a testament to the hospitality of Portland's restaurant industry that they welcomed us, cat cake and all.