Getting Sicilian in Gloucester

Type of Post: 
Best of Show
Destination: 
Cape Ann, MA
Best of Show: 
The Cassata alla Siciliana at Caffe Sicilia

Caffe SiciliaLike Boston, Portland, and many other fishing ports, Gloucester has a sizable and old Italian population, and the restaurants and markets to support it. This means you have a good chance to find real Italian products and authentic Italian specialties.

The Cassata alla Siciliana is a revelation of the baker's art. It's a Sicilian cake made from a sponge cake with a cannolli filling, covered with fondant and candied fruits, and sometimes wrapped with a band of pale green marzipan. It is difficult to make, and because it is sometimes imported frozen by Sapori di Napoli, few bakeries actually make it.

Lorna had tried the imported Cassata at La Trattoria, just a few doors down, and fallen in love with it. Naturally I decided I had to make it myself. I carefully deconstructed a slice, observed the cake in the pastry case, and asked where I could find one. The hostess directed me to the Caffe Sicilia.

Well, I spoke to the owner and it did not go well. He told me I cannot make the Cassata because I am not Sicilian! (I have a Neapolitan last name, but three of my grandparents were Irish...)

Challenge accepted.

I am not the most talented baker in New England, but I did my research and gave it the old college try.

Launching the New Year in French style

Destination: 
Portland, ME and Portsmouth, NH
Best of Show: 
Coq au Vin at Cafe Mirabelle, Portsmouth

Cafe Mirabelle, PortsmouthOur first expedition of the year was a great success.  We had a nice drive and we dined at a restaurant with good food of the sort that inspires the dedicated foodie!

It was a typically cold New England January day but we were refreshed from the previous day's holiday rest and fully recuperated from the evening that had preceded it. My birthday was fast approaching, so I got to choose that Saturday's expedition: exploring the shops and eateries of Portland's Old Port District followed by a French dinner at Cafe Mirabelle in Portsmouth.

Portland's Old Port has a number of places of interest to foodies, from the big Shipyard Brewery to the excellent Italian groceries at Micucci Market to the big kitchen store on Front Street and all the little places in the grid of shops that slopes down to the waterfront. We had a great late lunch at Norm's East End Barbecue, where I could not resist the Pepperoncini Martini (a vodka Martini made like a dirty Martini with pepperoncini juice and garnished with a vinegary yellow pepperoncini) that was an inspired complement to the rich smokey brisket I was enjoying.

Best of Show, though, has to go to the Coq au Vin at Cafe Mirabelle. I had long planned to make this dish, but was concerned because I could not picture how it is supposed to look and taste when it is done. It was fabulous with a little carafe of Cotes du Rhone! Now I have no excuse - I must make it myself!

Exploring Connecticut's Quiet Corner

Destination: 
Putnam, CT
Best of Show: 
Watermelon Steak at 85Main in Putnam

Watermelon Steak at 85MainWe explored the "Quiet Corner" of the Nutmeg State, from the Rhode Island border south as far as Route 6 and west as far as Willimantic. This area is home every August to the Brooklyn Fair, the oldest agricultural fair in the country, in bucolic Brooklyn, CT.

We had lunch in Putnam, a cute little town known for its antiques shops.

The downtown area of Putnam centers on a crossroads on Rte 44. On the south side is a short block of restaurants and shops, including 85 Main, a wonderfully creative locavore establishment.

I enjoyed the cutest lightweight summer salad: a slab of ripe seedless watermelon grilled and drizzled with balsamic vinegar, served with caramelized shallots and medallions of chocolate goat cheese from Capri Farm in Hubbardston, MA. This would be excellent at a late summer afternoon tea!

CiderDays

Destination: 
Colrain, MA
Best of Show: 
Sampling 30+ heirloom apples at the brick meeting house

CiderDay Apple TastingWe drove out to the wilds of Franklin County for the annual CiderDays festival.

This event is distributed all over Franklin County, but we typically use quaint little Colrain as our rally point.  That's because I really enjoy seeing the table outside the brick meeting house (shown here) with samples of scores of different heirloom apples. This is where you can try little-seen heirlooms like the Sheepnose, Twenty-Ounce, Winter Banana, and  Chenango Strawberry, as well as old classics like the Roxbury Russett, Northern Spy, Winesap, Baldwin, and more.

We also enjoy the (sometimes testy) cider panels and the tasting salon, where you can sample hard cider from some of the many cidermakers in New England and beyond.

The events include sessions about types of apples and cider, pairing cider with cheeses, cooking with apples and cider, growing apples, and making cider. It's really an eye-opening experience.

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