Friday, July 29, 2011

How much eating can we cram into 8 hours? Turns out, a lot

We've been to Seattle before, but it's been 4 years - and this time round we did not get to visit the hot new food trucks like Marination (spam sushi!) or Skillet, nor did we get to try a recently featured shop on Unique Sweets (the Confectional that makes mini-cheesecakes), partly because we were only in town for 8 hours over two days, and one of those days was the fourth when almost everything was closed.

This post is intended to counter the Portland posts, where we took tons of pictures. I don't have even one pic to share from our time in Seattle. Can I just substitute a pic of Vancouver and call it a day?

In any case, the highlights of our 8 hours in this lovely town were:

  • Visiting the Capitol hill neighborhood. While meeting up with friends for brunch, we were in line in a coffee shop ahead of a cross-dresser. The cross-dressers I've encountered up close are usually extremely well put together with much better makeup than I could possibly muster, but this guy had on a negligee, a garter belt, stockings and high heels, and no makeup whatsoever. It looked like he got dressed and gave up. When we mentioned this guy to our friends, they indicated that this was a perfectly normal occurrence for the area. After all, this is a neighborhood with a weekly dodge-ball league.
  • Eating at Tom Douglas' Lola restaurant. It was a beautiful afternoon, warm and sunny, so what better way to kill time before our flight by having drinks and a meal on the sidewalk patio at Lola in Belltown? It would have been idyllic, had we not planted ourselves in the midst of a loud, obnoxious group...of Lions Club members. Who knew the over-60 set could be so annoying? Nursing a St-Germain cocktail helped, as did the wonderful appetizers. We haven't found good Mediterranean food in Boston, so we happily munched on some meze and kebabs. For dessert, we had the much-touted doughnuts, which are fried beignets, coated with cinnamon sugar and served with mascarpone and strawberry dipping sauces. They were really good, but I doubt I had the food-gasm look that Giada DiLaurentis made when she ate them on her travel show. At least, I hope I didn't look like that because that would just be dorky.
  • Eating at Tom Douglas' Serious Pie restaurant. Around the corner from Lola is the chef's well-regarded pizza joint. The husband was determined to try the pizza and I wasn't about to stop him - though this is the man who thought we could "pop into Naples to try their pizza", which turned in to a 2 hour hellish experience. He ordered a truffle pizza to go and ate most of it while waiting for our red-eye flight home. I was too full from Lola's to even think about taking a bite, but it made for a good breakfast the next day, what was left of it.
We capped off our trip by watching the Fourth of July fireworks from the freezing comfort of the JetBlue gate waiting area. And that was that. Thanks for a great 8 hours, Seattle - hope to be back sometime soon.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

A Birthday Weekend That Bit Back

As I write this, I am frantically scratching at the gazillion bites that I got this weekend. Yes, a gazillion. I have 4 bites on my left forearm alone. I have so many that I'm wondering if some of these are hives - I'll ponder that thought as I continue to absentmindedly scratch.

This misery that I find myself in is a consequence of a great weekend, despite being woefully unprepared for the outdoors on Saturday. Here's what was on tap:

  • Saturday afternoon at Wells Beach in Maine: This is our favourite beach because it's easy to get parking and the beach is huge. There were decent waves for boogie boarding and I finally realized it is fun playing in the waves if you go with the waves instead of having them knock me over. If the water temperature wasn't freezing, we'd be here all the time. Unfortunately or fortunately, we're not likely to pony up $1.6M for an ocean-front home any time soon. (It does have 5 bedrooms if anyone's interested and expect us to crash at your place all the time.)
Wells Beach, Maine
  • The Clam Shack in Kennebunkport, Maine: We've been here a number of times and oddly enough, I don't think we've ever tried the lobster roll. We've either tried the fried clams or gotten the steamed lobster meals, but apparently the Clam Shack is known for their lobster roll. They even offer the choice of mayo or butter for your lobster. I love being able to choose since I'm a butter girl all the way. I found the use of a hamburger roll to be a surprise, but it didn't matter since it was toasted and buttery and good and I love Maine lobster. And that was just the appetizer for the evening.

Via The Clam Shack website

  • Essex Seafood on the North Shore was our next stop. Even though this town houses the famous rivals Woodman's and JT Farnham, both of which we've never eaten at, but we went to the divy-est of the shacks, Essex Seafood. The husband tried it a couple of weeks ago and liked it out of all the fried clams we've tried. He would know, given our fried clam crawl on the Cape that we did a few years ago. In any case, we shared a fried clam platter, accompanied by a bootleg bottle of albarino wine that paired quite nicely with the fried food. 
  • We ended the night at a pool party at a friend's place who had just moved in 8 days earlier. This was their second pool party in 8 days and I would hazard a guess that their neighbours are well on their way to hating them. This is where I think I turned into a buffet for flying critters - no bug spray, floating on an inner tube, in the dark while sipping pinot grigio. It was worth the bites since it was a lovely time hanging out with friends, and we might have stayed longer if a) a couple hadn't started making out in the shallow end, and b) someone else potentially puked in the shallow end. The husband lost his flip flops and after some searching, left the party barefoot.
  • Bondir in Cambridge: This was my choice for a fancy birthday dinner. We'd been wanting to try this restaurant since we read the great reviews at Serious Eats and Tiny Urban Kitchen at the beginning of the year. Since this is a 22-seat restaurant, it's not the kind of joint you can just pop into, and we are notoriously bad at planning in advance. The husband managed to snag a table at 8:45pm on a Sunday night with 5 days notice. I was worried we would be the last people eating in there, but the restaurant was full when we got there - there were even people who came in after us. We had an extremely good meal including dessert in an hour, and it turned out the restaurant was almost completely full when we left. This is a restaurant that emphasizes fresh, local cuisine and changes up the menu daily. Our appetizers and entrees were fantastic - we had salad and seafood and pasta and pork belly.  We also liked being able to order half portions for just about everything on the menu, which meant we could eat a number of different things and not be stuffed to the gills. The desserts were just ok - not spectacular, but nice to have a little something after the meal. The only thing that we really didn't like was a bread called The Sea, made with dehydrated shrimp, squid ink and seaweed. That wasn't just funky, it was weird and not terribly tasty, though it smelled worse than it tasted.
Finally, my birthday gift from the husband is this little baby. Isn't she purty? I feel the need to name her. I requested a small purse that tucks under my arm since it's what I use when we travel and my last purse was starting to fray. It's my way of deterring pickpockets in European cities - if they want to steal anything, they're going to have to work for it by venturing into my sweaty armpit.

via website

Monday, July 25, 2011

Seasonal Eating

Thanks to the iPad, we've given up a most of our hard-copy subscriptions to magazines and newspapers for the convenience of electronic delivery, but we've learned that food magazines just aren't the same. But since we have an electronic subscription to Saveur, the husband decided to peruse our electronic magazine collection to catch up on back issues. The magazine library elicited a loud "September? #%*$^!" and sure enough, September is the most recent issue. The husband continued to mutter for the next 10 mins ("September, wtf?"), which is understandable since it is only the middle of July and at a gazillion degrees, fall feels a long long way off. And July means peaches, berries and lots and lots of cherries in our kitchen.

We were a little enthusiastic on the amount of cherries we thought we could eat. Once we realized we couldn't eat the large bag of cherries before they went bad, I decided to give the Serious Eats Cherry-Amaretto Tart recipe a try. We didn't have enough cherries for a full tart, but a half-recipe made 5 cute little tartlets.

These are so not as pretty as the ones made by Tea and Scones, but damn they were good. How can you go wrong with mascarpone, shortbread cookies, and fresh cherries lightly cooked in amaretto?

Next up on the seasonal eating theme - goat cheese and roasted cherry ice cream...

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Pretty Pictures from Portland

Portland had more to offer than just food. It's a very pretty city, both the greenery and the urban design (particularly in the Pearl district). They have the largest Japanese garden outside of Japan and a hell of a lot of roses. Here's a montage of pics that we took:


Stoller Winery, Willamette Valley, Oregon

Japanese Gardens

More Japanese Gardens (there were 9 in all, I think)
 And here's more:

Still in the Japanese Gardens
At the International Rose Test Garden - this is a small fraction of what we saw. So many roses...

Finally, a killer view from Washington Park:
The majestic Mount Hood

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

This ain't no Portlandia

On a beautifully sunny Sunday morning, the husband and I decided to hit up the SoWa market in South End. We were mainly interested in the weekly vintage market and hadn't fully realized the extent of the changes in the outdoor market. In addition to have an area dedicated as a farmer's market, there was also a small congregation of food trucks.

By small, we mean 6 vendors in total. In addition to Clover, which I've eaten at before, there were Silk Road, Bon Me (the yellow truck at the top), and Roxy's Gourmet Grilled Cheese Truck (lower pic). Bon Me was a pleasant surprise - they primarily serve banh mi, the Vietnamese sandwich. Not only was their meat good (roast pork), their bread seemed to be authentic - lighter than any of the breads we've tried when we've made our own. The husband decided to stand in the crazy line for the grilled cheese truck, thinking any place with that long a line is probably good. Turns out it was just a symptom of poor operations - the grilled cheese was greasy from too much cheese and wasn't all that tasty.

Despite Boston's recently announced food truck imitative, the city doesn't even begin to hold a candle to the food truck mania in Portland, OR.  Here's part of a block on a downtown street:

Part of a block in downtown Portland

All four sides of this block were filled with food trucks. And that was just one block - here's another: 

A different block in downtown Portland

From downtown, we trekked across the river as the husband was hell-bent on going to Potato Champion, to chase down poutine since it's hard to find the authentic version in New England. While it looked promising on the surface, one bite and we knew it wasn't made by a Canadian - the gravy had onions in it. Blasphemy!

In-authentic poutine

Some of our favourite food experiences in Portland didn't involve a food truck at all. Number 1 on our list was Pok Pok, the highly acclaimed Thai restaurant of Andy Ricker, a 2011 James Beard winner and a white guy who can cook mean Thai street food. Although we haven't been to Bangkok, the food at Pok Pok seemed to be authentic, as it was some of the funkiest dishes I've eaten outside of my home growing up with Asian parents. I'm talking fish sauce and hot peppers galore that did quite a number on both of our insides (I'll keep it at that). This is not an Americanized menu whatsoever, so be warned.

Our second favourite place is this little take-out joint in the same neighborhood - it's truly a window from which amazing waffles emerge.

I like waffles in general. I have been known to seek out the Wafels and Dinges truck in NYC (it required a subway ride to the upper east side), and I'm quite a fan of the sweet liege wafels that they serve. Since they don't serve savory ones, we had to try one at the Waffle Window.

This little gem of a place was featured on Unique Eats (Cooking Channel) with a focus on their savory The Three B's waffle. Bacon, brie and basil on a sweet waffle with peach preserves on the side does not sound like it would be a good thing - but oh my god, it was a great thing. We wolfed it down so fast, we didn't have time to take a picture, but here's one from the Waffle Window's website so that you can get a visual of what made us drool:

From Waffle Window website

Our waffle didn't look quite as pretty but man was it good. What got me was the pearl sugar that they used in the waffle batter - I'd be chewing a happy mouthful of brie and bacon (what a great combination on its own), when a glob of sugar crystals would explode, adding a fantastic sweet dimension. It was such a good waffle that the next one we ate, a sweet one with rhubarb, strawberry, coconut panna cotta and whipped cream, could only be a letdown. I'm sure it was an excellent dessert waffle, but it just couldn't compare.

Our third favorite eating experience in a non-food truck setting was of all things at a Swedish cafe. We're not particularly knowledgeable of Scandinavian food, and this cafe was highly rated, so we went. It was very tasty, and it made for a pretty photo too. Though I must say, Dutch Baby pancakes didn't do it for me - my pancake pickiness continues!

Dutch baby pancakes at Swedish cafe Broder

Unfortunately, my love affair with Portland has ended. A few weeks after we returned to Boston, I received an email from Zipcar indicating I had committed a traffic violation - turning right on a yellow light. Thanks to their stupid cameras at traffic lights, I now have to pay a $300 fine. %*@$$&#(!!!!

Sunday, July 10, 2011

How to plan for a child in the house

Nope, I'm not pregnant.

Now that we've all gotten over that frightening thought, let me explain - the husband's 11 year old nephew arrived on Saturday night to stay with us for a week. He's a really great kid and this is his second time flying across the country by himself to stay with us, so he's really excited to be here. The nice thing for us is that his tastes have changed substantially in the last two years - when he first came to visit, he had to be coaxed to try new things and there was an icident where I carried a bottle of ketchup in my purse when we went to a Japanese restaurant, just in case.

This time round, the first thing he asked for is whether we could go for sushi, which we're quite happy to accommodate, though I'm a little frightened as to how much sushi he could eat because this could become a very expensive outing fast. He also liked the salty Thomas Keller Oreos that I make, which surprised me since I thought it's not sweet enough and too salty for kids. I don't know what changed his food preferences so radically, but having Mumbai Mondays and Tuscan Tuesdays at his mom's seems to have created a more adventurous palate so that we don't have to worry so much as to what to feed him. He is also fairly proficient for his age in the kitchen - he often minces garlic for his mom when she's cooking, so I put him to work and we made Rocky Road ice cream together. We have the Cambridge School of Culinary Arts around the corner from us and they have week-long culinary classes for kids 12 and up, consisting of serious stuff: a day of knife skills, the next day it's sauces and stocks, etc. We'll probably sign him up for that the next time he visits so that all of us can benefit!

It's still a matter of being organized and planning for the week, something that we used to be good at but somehow we've fallen into the spontaneous "What do you want to eat tonight?" kind of decision-making. So I'm using this beautiful Sunday afternoon to braise a couple of racks of ribs that will be finished off on the BBQ and make 2 lbs worth of pork lemongrass meatballs that I can freeze for later in the week. And of course, at least one trip to a sushi restaurant is on the itinerary...

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