Lorna's Tuscan Birthday Feast

Lorna's birthday is in October, which is surely one of the finest months for cooks! There are still plentiful fresh vegetables, the winter squashes are in, the Apples are ripe and ready, and you can cook without overheating the house!

This feast was one of my four-part Exploring Italy series, set in Tuscany. Most of the dishes came from Ada Boni's Italian Regional Cooking, with additional guidance from Anna Del Conte's The Classic Food of Northern Italy.

We had:

  • A starter of four New England cheeses, with a bottle of Rosso di Montalcino 2009
  • We opened the meal with the Livornese Cacciucco, a flavorful and generous fish soup.
  • Next came La Ribollita, the classic Tuscan white bean soup. I made this extra-hearty so as not to have two soups in the meal. This was extraordinarily savory.
  • The main course was a Pollo in Agrodolce, a fascinating and zippy dish that features white raisins, wine vinegar, pignoli, and bitter chocolate - this was the hit of the dinner!
  • With the meal we enjoyed a Boscoselvo Brunello do Montalcino 1999 and a Ruffino Chianti Classico Riserva Ducale d'Oro 2000.
  • We finished with another surprise hit of the night, the mysterious Castagnaccio, a cake of chestnut flour, olive oil, pine nuts and golden raisins.

Surrounded by Witches

Salem, MA
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The pulled pork with a fried egg at the Scratch Kitchen

Scratch Kitchen, SalemIt may have been an error in judgment to go to Salem on the Saturday before Halloween, the biigest day of the year in the Witch City. But we were intent upon seeing the soon-to-depart Hudson River School exhibit at the Peabody Essex Museum and forgot all about our possible peril.

Sure enough we were surrounded by witches and all sorts of ghoulish companions on the streets of the city, which look like an urban version of a country fair. Every available space seemed to host a Fried Dough truck or a Sausages and Peppers cart. Alas! I saw no Corn Dogs so I had to settle for real, local, organically-raised food instead.

The nice lady at the Visitor Center told us about someplace for breakfast, but it was full so we kept looking. Not far on we saw the Scratch Kitchen, proudly proclaiming local fare, so we went in.

They certainly have local fare well-prepared, including a succulent pulled pork from Lucki 7 Farms topped with a sunny-side up egg and washed down with a Notch Session Ale from nearby Ipswich.
The session ale is a sadly underrepresented type in this day of super-hopmonster Imperial IPAs and Imperial Belgian Drafthorse Ale and Imperial super-high-gravity neutronium ales: Session ales are flavorful but lower in alcohol (Notch doesn't go over 4.5% alcohol by volume) so they accompany a meal nicely without demanding to be the meal.

Questing in Connecticut

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Putnam, CT
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the Ramos Gin Fizz at 85 Main

Ramos Gin Fizz at 85 MainWhile Lorna was antiquing in the shops of Putnam, I sequestered myself in the quiet back corner corner of the awesome bar at 85 Main. I had planned on drinking coffee while she shopped, until I noticed the sign for their Classic Cocktails!

One of the cocktails on the menu is the Ramos Gin Fizz, which I have long wanted to try but never had the ingredients (or the courage).

It is not easy to make. Aside from the egg white and the cream and the orange blossom water, it calls for 5 minutes of vigorous shaking. This gives it the requisite body and froth, which opens up the flavors and may provide a show depending on the bartender, but it is exhausting so do remember to tip generously if you order this thing.  

The result is silky and magical, an evocative blend of flavors and textures - do try one!

Exploring Connecticut's Quiet Corner

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Woodstock, CT
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Afternoon Tea at Mrs Bridge's Pantry

Mrs Bridge's Pantry and Tea RoomWe took a foliage drive to Connecticut's quiet corner.  Along the way, we discovered Mrs Bridge's Pantry, a great little tea room and market for British goods.

It was the perfect place to relax after touring the lovely historic Roseland Cottage in Woodstock, Connecticut, one of many interesting historic homes owned by Historic New England (formerly SPNEA).

Roseland Cottage in Woodstock, CTAfter some more driving (where we scored some fresh preservative-free cider) we headed home by way of the  Stone Bridge Restaurant* in Tiverton, RI, where she enjoyed the special Lobster Cheesecake and I had the Portuguese classic,  Pork & Littleneck Clams.

*NSFW Warning: The Stone Bridge website plays music. If you start to distract your coworkers or wake the baby, you can turn it off with a Page Music Control at the bottom of the page.

Glorious Goosefat

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Plymouth, MA
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Rillettes and Confit d'Oie at the Old Colony Club

RillettesIn early October, the Old Colony Club had a Colonial Tavern Dinner. The cook roasted three fat geese, and I got the carcasses and a generous portion of the goosefat.

Goosefat is a wonderful savory fat for cooking, but it has other uses. The French, especially in the deep south formerly known as Aquitaine, put it to use in Rillettes and in Confit d'Oie, so I did the same.

Rillettes is a spreadable sort of very rich pate made of the leftover meat and fat pounded together with the quatre epices (lots of pepper, a little each of clove, nutmeg, and ginger). I served it on thin baguette slices, and on crackers when the baguette ran out.Confit d'Oie

Confit d'Oie is preserved goose; chunks of seasoned, cooked goose packed in melted goosefat to exclude air, and then chilled to solidify the fat.

I planned to serve it sizzling in a chafing dish, but we had no Sterno so I served it from on a hot plate with toothpicks beside it, and more crackers.

Both the confit and the rillettes were very popular, so the ritual will be repeated during the cold-weather months until the supply is gone.

North Quabbin Garlic and Arts Festival

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Orange, MA
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18 varieties of garlic to sample!

NQG&A FestivalWhat a discovery! We were driving from Worcester northwest along Rte 122 toward Rte 2 and Greenfield, just out exploring. We had left the suburbs of Worcester far behind and were very near the Quabbin Reservoir when we say a bright orange sign proclaiming the North Quabbin Garlic and Arts Festival!

Well I ask you what foodie could pass up a serendipitous garlic and arts fest? We followed the signs along the twisting roads and came upon another world.

The event filled a large field, with a sort of locavore food court on a small wooded hill overlooking the tents of the main event. The food was all good local fare, and creative - that's where I tried my first garlic ice cream...

We really got into some trouble there. The festival went way beyond garlic. I bought about 18 different heirloom tomatoes for a tomato-tasting event, and a dozen types of garlic for a garlic tasting event, and about a half-dozen different varieties of new potatoes. I don't even eat potatoes! It was a temporary aberration, to be sure. A sort of locavore foodie shopper's high. But we sure had fun sampling those tomatoes and garlic!

Ale the Colonial Way

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Portsmouth, NH
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Cask Ale at the Coat of Arms

Thumper on CaskRaindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens are all very nice, but they don't make it into my Top 10 for My Favorite Things (most of which can be found in these pages). One of my favorite things is Cask-Conditioned Ale, and one of my very favorite things is Shipyard Brewery Old Thumper Extra Special Ale fresh from a hand-pulled cask.

This marvelous malty elixir can be had all the time (as far as I can tell) upstairs at the Coat of Arms Pub in Portsmouth.

There are many fine discoveries in Portsmouth; it's a shopper's paradise. For the most part, though, I let Lorna do the shopping while I ponder the delights of a fine fresh cask-conditioned ale and scribble down my thoughts.

Scotch EggThere's more to the Coat of Arms than the ale, though. You can try a draft Strongbow cider as well. And you can eat traditional delicacies like the Scotch Egg with hot English Mustard!

I wonder why Lorna never wants to eat there? ;-)

Richmond's Piedmont Birthday Feast

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What's on my Plate?

Richmond's birthday is in June, when the farmers' markets are starting to fill up with fresh veggies and Strawberries are at their peak.

This feast was one of my four-part Exploring Italy series, set in northwestern Italy: Piedmont, Liguria, and Val d'Aosta. Most of the dishes came from Anna Del Conte's The Classic Food of Northern Italy with a couple from The Silver Spoon Cookbook.

We had:

  • We opened the meal with an antipasto of Fontina Val d'Aosta cheese and artichoke hearts, white anchovies, and olives, refreshed by a bottle of good Lambrusco, and some Martini and Rossi Dry Vermouth on the rocks.
  • This was followed by the Ligurian Capon Maggro, an awesome structure of seafood on a mound of steamed vegetables, held together by a fabulous piquant green sauce.
  • Next came a Roast Beet and Cheese Ravioli with Pesto alla Genovese and a Green Bean Tourte.
  • Then came White Truffle Risotto, a classic Piedmont flavor, accompanying a rich Chicken with Mushrooms and Cream featuring multiple types of mushrooms.
  • With the meal we enjoyed a Batasiolo Barolo 2001 and an Alessandria Barbera d'Alba 2009.
  • We finished with the non-Italian but seasonal Frozen Strawberry Torte.

The feast was held on Sunday, 19 June 2011.

Attendees were John and Lorna, Richmond and Annette

Bahnan's Market

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Bahnan's MarketI have shopped at Henri Bahnan's store since it was a tiny bakery making Armenian peda bread. I would ride over on my bicycle and get a loaf of the bread hot off the oven-conveyor. Bahnan's also had a crowded skinny storefront where he sold middle-eastern spices and other ingredients. This was maybe 25 years ago.

Today, Bahnan's International Marketplace, Bakery, and Cafe is a much larger, thriving operation. It is still my go-to place when I need Greek or middle eastern foods, spices, and other goodies. It is the only place I know I can always get the Dodonis Feta that I use to make my celebrated Spanakopita, and the heavier country fillo that I use in that popular recipe. I buy my olive oil there, and the roasted unsalted hazelnuts that I use in my Buche de Noel every Christmastime.

Bahnan's is conveniently located just a few doors down from Ed Hyder's Mediterranean Marketplace, another must-visit while in Worcester.

Foliage and Fine Ale

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Fryeburg, ME
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Artisanal ales at Ebenezer's Pub

Ebenezer's PubWe set out early, but not early enough to beat the traffic to the Fryeburg Fair, a great agricultural fair in western Maine not far from North Conway, NH. By the time we reached the outskirts of Fryeburg (a long way indeed from Plymouth!) the traffic was at a standstill, so we took a left turn and headed north through the Maine portion of the White Mountain National Forest.

It was one of the best foliage drives we had ever taken, the more so because we ended up at the legendary Ebenezer's Pub in tiny Lovell, ME.

Ebenezer's is a funny space by a golf course with an astonishing array of micro- and nono-brews, Belgian Ales, and other treats. It is defiinitely a destination, the sort of place you can go to try something you won't find anywhere else. That's what I did, a wonderful high-gravity nano-brew from NH. It was very malty, with coffee-molasses undertones and a dry finish, balanced by assertive hops that gave structure without intruding. I could find the brewer again, but...I had to promise Chris (the owner) that I wouldn't give the name online!

Ebenezer's isn't really near anywhere, but it's a very nice ride and a great destination.

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