Stocking Stuffers and Fun Treats

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Best of Show
Destination: 
Newton. Boston, and Portsmouth
Best of Show: 
The wacky treats at Baza Market in Newton

The Baza DragonMy stepdaughter Melissa lives in Los Angeles with her husband, Jeremy. Melissa misses the New England Christmas, especially the Christmas stockings that we fill every year (and ship to LA when Melissa and Jeremy cannot get back east).

I always like finding funny and interesting and just plain bizarre goodies at all sorts of markets, including ethnic ones. Some of these things naturally end up credited to Santa Claus. After all, he fills stockings from all around the world, so why limit his treats to what comes from Hershey, PA?

In a recent blog post, Melissa mentioned that one of her favorite things about Christmas is "stocking stuffed to the brim with exotic candies from all over the world". I am glad she likes it! Here's some of what we scored on yesterday's expedition, and similar expeditions:

  • Baza Market, in Newton Upper Falls, MA, (take Highland Ave east from Rte 128) source of that awesome dragon above, plus a great assortment of candies in colorful wrappers printed in Russian. I have no idea if Melissa is getting chocolate-covered herring, but it sure looks nice!
  • Maria's Pastry in Boston's North End - the best marzipan fruits, great homemade panforte.
  • Bahnan's Market and Ed Hyder's, both in Worcester.

Wegmans Supermarket

Wegmans,

9102 Shops Way,
Northborough, MA 01532

 

Ever since Wegmans opened in Northborough, Massachusetts we’d planned to go there.  The chain is famous for the quality and variety of its foods, and once, traveling through Pennsylvania, we passed a Wegmans supermarket, and were tempted by its fabled wonder, but our itinerary dragged us away. 

 

Now we have a Wegmans nearer home, and it was an opportunity to be seized. Heading west on Route 9, we took an exit onto Route 20 toward Northborough, and made the next right onto Shops Way.  There it was.

 

I’ve always loved markets.  I’ve wandered plazas in Mexico where women spread homegrown chilies on blankets.

Tea with Visitors from Germany

Brunch for OwenOur old friend Owen lives in Germany now, so we don't see him very often. He was visiting the US this week on family business with his daughter Sarah and a lady friend, Brigitte. Our opportunity to see them was a Sunday brunch. Because Brigitte doesn't get fresh seafood very often and seldom sees New England fare, I set up a little highlights of New England brunch: 

  • We started with scones and Rhode Island johnnycakes, with New Hampshire maple syrup, wild Maine blueberry preserves, and local cranberry preserves, plus some traditional lemon curd and Double devon clotted cream from Mrs Bridge's Pantry in Woodstock, Connecticut
  • On another plate we had some Grafton Village Special Reserve Cheddar, from Vermont.
  • Then we had scrambled eggs with chives and sage from the garden (still good thanks to this bizarrely warm December!) and my celebrated Lobster Salad with fresh-from-the-harbor lobsters from Wood's Seafoods, Plymouth, Massachusetts.
  • We finished up with a Christmas Pudding and Hard Sauce to make the brunch extra-festive.
    So we represented all six New England states in one brunch!

The Christmas Party Acquisition Expedition

Type of Post: 
Best of Show
Destination: 
Worcester, Hanover, Norwich
Best of Show: 
The Black Forest Cafe

Black Forest Cafe, Amherst, NHEvery year as Christmas approaches, I host a sort of party at work. This has grown from the first one when I just made some goodies to share with my colleagues, to a much larger event sanctioned by the company for which I get a budget for goodies for the 80 people or so in our Lexington headquarters.

I need a lot of goodies for that many people, and I don't like to get them at the supermarket. So every December we make a special acquisition expedition to get the goods. This trip took us from Plymouth to Worcester, then up Route 13 to Amherst, NH and eventually as far as Hanover, NH and Norwich, VT.

Naturally such an arduous journey requires appropriate foodie sustenance; we were happy to find what we needed at the Black Forest Cafe on Route 101 in Amherst.

Antiquing in Southern Maine

Type of Post: 
Best of Show
Destination: 
Route 1 south of Portland
Best of Show: 
Flo's Steamed Hot Dogs

Flo's Steamed Hot DogsOur adventure this Saturday brought us antiquing along Route 1 in southern Maine. We had a specific goal in mind: a 1950s style juice pitcher just like one I had broken the night of Lorna's Tuscan Birthday Feast. (Note to self: If you put a pitcher of water in the freezer to chill, set the oven timer so you don't forget it!)

We had been in this area many times, but we typically stayed along the scenic roads out along the shore, ME 102, ME 9, and other byways. This time our mission kept us to Route 1, where so many antiques shops are, and where we finally got to the iconic Flo's Hot Dogs.

It's not really hard to get to Flo's. The problem for us is that we usually are beyond during the brief 11am to 3pm open time, or we are looking for breakfast, not a hot dog, or we just had breakfast. But in this case the timing was right.

I like Hot Dogs, especially steamed ones, so I was glad to get back to Flo's. Flo's Hot Dogs is a tiny yellow shack on the east side of Rte 1 in York, not far inland from Nubble Light and York Beach. Hot dogs have been sold here since 1959 and it looks it. The inside has a lunch counter with maybe a dozen stools, but on a good day there might be 20 people standing in a queue behind the stools waiting for hot dogs.  Saturday was a good day, cool but sunny, so the place was packed at about 1pm when we arrived, 20 strangers amiably chatting and waiting for dogs.

There is a protocol to ordering dogs, and it is clearly posted above the counter.

An Unexpected Local Treasure

Type of Post: 
Best of Show
Destination: 
Plymouth, MA
Best of Show: 
The New World Tavern

New World TavernWe live in Plymouth, Massachusetts, just a few blocks from Plymouth Rock and the Mayflower II replica ship. It is a tourist town, and many restaurants suffer from what we call "the Tourist Effect", which is the tendency to abandon repeat customers in favor of slick advertising and an endless stream of tourists who do not know where the good food is. 

When we heard that a new beer-themed restaurant was going to open downtown, we thought sarcastically "Great! Just what Plymouth needs is another big sports bar with lousy food!" But being fearless explorers, your dauntless Foodie Pilgrims donned our pith helmets and went to the New World Tavern.

 It was a revelation! Fabulous! Incredible! And hopefully not doomed to drown in a swamp of mediocrity, outcompeted by cheap beer and worse food. The food was exciting and new and delicately prepared, and the beer was varied and fresh. The help was knowedgeable and friendly.

I won't go into any more detail here, except to say that Richmond and I have decided to make a careful scientific survey of the New World Tavern. There is much to explore there, and it seems we have discovered an exciting new world of foodie-beer goodness right on our doorsteps! Stay tuned for the Discovery Journal of your intrepid pilgrims.  

Congratulating Newlyweds

Type of Post: 
Best of Show
Destination: 
Rte 1 as far as Camden, Maine
Best of Show: 
Irish coffee with the newlyweds

Irish CoffeesWhen my baby brother got married in October, Lorna and I gave the newlyweds a pair of nice Waterford Irish Coffee cups along with my Irish Coffee recipe.

We finally got to show them the proper use of such fine vessels with the help of fresh-ground coffee, Knappogue Castle Irish Whiskey, and fresh thickened cream. It was a cool night in coastal Maine, and the Irish Coffee took the chill off while we looked at photos of their honeymoon in Italy.

Irish Coffee is a delight on a winter evening, when prepared properly with quality ingredients. Don't let a disappointing experience with weak coffee and Redi-Whip ruin this convivial winter potion for you - try my Irish Coffee recipe when you can, and post your thoughts below.

TurnipQuest

Type of Post: 
Best of Show
Destination: 
Eastham and P-town
Best of Show: 
The elusive Eastham Turnip

The Eastham TurnipEver since our Discovering Our Roots dinner a few weeks ago, I have had a nagging sense of inadequate scientific effort. Turnip afficionadoes will no doubt recall that in that Discovery Dinner we sampled a newly-discovered Gilfeather Turnip from Vermont along with two other turnips. One of those was the fabled Eastham Turnip, but of course we had not acquired an Eastham (Cape Cod) Turnip in Brattleboro, VT; the Eastham entry had come already cooked and lightly seasoned from Annette's freezer.

It wasn't exactly a fair comparison. The Eastham Turnip was not treated the same way as its competitors, and it may have gained an unfair advantage. You can imagine competition among turnips must get awfully fierce, they so seldom get the spotlight... So I vowed to procure an Eastham Turnip and subject it to the same rigorous treatment endured by the Gilfeather and the ill-fated Scarlet Turnip.

Eastham Turnips are not exactly leaping off the shelves of Cape Cod groceries. You have to search diligently, or else you have to know where to find them. Richmond had generously told me of his special hunting ground: a roadside stand on the east side of Route 6 in Eastham. It's a little place, easily missed. I know this because I missed it. Twice. And by the time I got back there, they were closed.

Before reaching the happy end of this action-packed turnip tale, here's the skinny on the Eastham turnip stand:  as you head north on Rte 6 in Eastham, doubtless closely pursued by some impatient pickup truck, don't dawdle.

Discovering our Roots at the Brattleboro Farmers Market

Type of Post: 
Best of Show
Destination: 
Brattleboro VT and up the Connecticut River Valley
Best of Show: 
The exciting range of unexpected root vegetables and pumpkins at the Brattleboro Farmers market

Winter VegetablesWe explored the stretch of the Connecticut River from the Massachusetts border north to Quechee Gorge, VT and Lebanon, NH. Our itinerary started with a late breakfast at the dedicated locavore Chelsea Royal Diner in Brattleboro, a visit to the farmers market, and then a drive northward along VT Rte 5, hugging the river the whole way.

We made a number of discoveries and renewed our acquaintanceship with some old friends, but nothing beat the Brattleboro Farmers Market!

There are actually two Farmers Markets in Brattleboro: the summer-fall market by the river was having their last, pre-Thanksgiving market, and the indoor market downtown was open. Both were busy.

 What was so exciting? We found a few heirloom local vegetables that were new to us: Gilfeather Turnip, Long Pie Pumpkin, and Lutz Green Leaf Beet, plus the Italian Chioggia beet and a scarlet turnip. We also scored sausages from pasture-raised pork and beef from Dexter cattle, Just So Vermont unsweetened black-currant juice that is sure to become an ingredient in something, and artisanal ciders from Whetstone Ciderworks.

Most of this plunder will be cooked up in one of our Discovery Feasts this week.

Exploring Portland's Old Port

Type of Post: 
Best of Show
Destination: 
Portland, ME
Best of Show: 
House-Made Sausages at The Thirsty Pig in Portland

The Thirsty PigWe explored Portland on Saturday. It was a pretty blue-sky November day, crisp but not cold, and many people were in the Old Port.

There are many fine galleries and artisans shops in the Old Port, and it soon became clear that Lorna didn't need me tapping my foot by the door. Fortunately refuge was available right down Exchange Street at The Thirsty Pig. Despite the fact that we had recently had lunch at Becky's Diner*. I could not resist trying their own house-made sausages and it was Maine Beer Week.

I selected an Alewife Ale from the Run of the Mill microbrewery in nearby Saco, ME. On the advice of their sausagemeister, I  enjoyed a Lithuanian-style kielbasa made with parsley and ale in the mix, and then served with Morse's Sauerkraut and my favorite Maine Mustard Pickles. It was delicious. Now I have to find reasons to have lunch in Portland again, but that won't be difficult!

*NSFW Warning: The Becky's Diner website plays annoying seagull-and-surf sounds. 

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