It Ain’t My Mamma’s Potato Salad

Picnic season is upon us…..the temperature and humidity are both climbing, the sun goes down later and it’s the season of long weekends, vacations, graduation parties, and other outdoor festivities.  That means it’s picnic food time!

This is the time of year – you know, between Memorial Day and Labor Day – that you can be out cutting your grass and jealousy slowly (or maybe not so slowly) creeps over you as you smell what ever deliciousness is on your neighbor’s grill.  According to the National Hot Dog and Sausage Council (NHDSC) – this is peak hot dog season.  Between Memorial Day and Labor Day American’s consume approximately 7 billion (with a B) hot dogs – 150 million on Independence Day alone (that’s over 10,000 miles of hot dogs)!

What do we typically serve with our grilled hamburgers and hot dogs?  Some of the most popular options for picnic sides are fruit salad, cole slaw, macaroni salad, corn on the cob and, the star of today’s show, potato salad.

Although there are probably millions of recipes out there for potato salad, I will tell you quite confidently that my mamma’s potato salad is THE BEST!  It’s creamy and flavorful and both soft and crunchy – it has the perfect balance of flavors and textures……WHEN SHE MAKES IT.  That’s the sticking point – it’s only perfect when she makes it.  She has generously shared her recipe with me and I’ve made it and it has been good – even great – but not like hers!

Why am I telling you this?  Because we recently had a family dinner and, unfortunately, Mimi had to work so she couldn’t be there.  She graciously sent all the fixings, washed and prepped, for a delicious tossed salad (which in our family is not your traditional lettuce, tomatoes, croutons – it’s more a work of culinary art).  I had asked her to make the salad for dinner before I got the request that we have hamburgers and hot dogs.  Had I known that would be the menu, I would definitely have asked her to make potato salad!

But, these hardships in life [read this as it was intended – dripping with sarcasm and gratitude for my situation] teach us to adapt.  I knew I couldn’t serve Mimi’s Potato Salad to this particular crowd because they’ve all had it before and they’d know it was a sad imposter of the fabulous original.  So I decided to go an entirely different way (I know, surprising that I would do that).

I pulled out a potato salad recipe that I had developed for a class.  Here’s what I did:

The night before I assembled the potato salad, I:

  • smoked the potatoes
  • crisped and the bacon
  • hard-boiled the eggs
  • mixed the dressing

Before I continue, I should tell you a bit about a stove-top smoker, which is what I used to smoke the potatoes.  If you don’t have one of these in your culinary arsenal, you should! It’s a great tool for adding flavor without adding fat and is also a wonderful way of giving winter foods the taste of summer without grilling or smoking outside in the snow (which, of course, I have been known to do).

The stove-top smoker can be used on an electric or gas stove top, a grill or a camp fire/fire pit.  When you purchase it – and I just happen to know where you can buy a stove-top smoker –  the smoker is bright and shiny and pristine; however, the longer you use it, the more it will start to look like mine.  The smoker consists of four parts:

  1. Base (into which you add approximately 1 Tbsp of smoking chips, which come in a wide variety of flavors) 2
  2. Drip Tray (keeps your wood chips dry while smoking)
    3
  3. Rack (keeps your food elevated so that it is surrounded by smoke)
    4
  4. Lid (keeps the smoke trapped inside the smoker for maximum flavor)
    5

Generally speaking, you will add raw foods to the smoker and during the process of smoking they will become cooked.  What foods can you smoke?  The sky is the limit!  I’ve smoked chicken, seafood, veggies, cheese for pizza (you have to put it into a ramekin or you’ll have a mess), chickpeas for hummus, etc. etc. etc.

Back to the potato salad.  I assembled it the day of the picnic; however you could assemble it the day before to give all the flavors a chance to marry with a great result. Had i planned better, that is just what I would have done.  But you know what they say about the best laid plans of mice and men….

So back to the assembly. Because I had prepped some of the ingredients the night before, assembly was a breeze.  I got out my cutting board, my favorite ceramic knife, and set to work.

First, I cubed the smoked potatoes, which had been refrigerated over night.

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I chopped the hard-boiled eggs, which had also been refrigerated overnight.

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I crumbled the crisped bacon, which again was refrigerated overnight.

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I minced the celery – including the leaves, which add great flavor and color.

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And I minced the sweet onion.

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I measured my shredded WHITE cheddar (I could go on a rant here about orange cheddar, but I won’t.  Suffice it to say it is my last resort).

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I diagonally sliced the scallions – both the white part and much of the green.  I stop where the green begins to get dry.

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And I whisked the dressing, which had been mellowing out in the fridge too.

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Finally, I put all the ingredients (except for a few of the sliced scallions) in a LARGE bowl and gently tossed it until it was well mixed.  I tasted it for seasoning and adjusted as necessary.

To finish, I scooped it into the serving bowl and scattered the top with the reserved sliced scallions and slid it, covered, into the fridge until my guests arrived!

recipe_image

It AIN”T my mamma’s potato salad, but if you want a fresh spin on potato salad with unique flavors and textures, this should definitely make it to your picnic-side-dishes list!

 

Before all you fellow grammar-nerds ask or complain – yes, it damn near killed me to use the word ‘ain’t’!)

 

Loaded Wood-Smoked Potato Salad

by mmm mmm mmm

Keywords: Smoke salad summer

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 lb Yukon Gold potatoes, smoked and cut into large dice (see note below)
  • 1 1/2 lb sweet potatoes, smoked and cut into large dice (see note below)
  • 4 large eggs, hard-boiled
  • 8 slices bacon, crisped and crumbled
  • 4 stalks celery, finely diced
  • 1 small sweet onion, finely diced
  • 6 oz shredded white cheddar cheese
  • 6 scallions (white and green parts), diagonally sliced
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 1/2 cup Hellman’s mayonnaise
  • 2 Tbsp yellow mustard
  • 2 tsp kosher salt
  • 2 tsp ground smoked black pepper
  • 2 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
  • 2 Tbsp brown sugar
  • 1 tsp minced garlic

Instructions

Note: To smoke potatoes

Place approximately ½ to 1 Tbsp. smoking chips in the bottom of the smoker tray.

Insert the drip tray.

Cover the rack with aluminum foil and spray the foil with cooking spray.

Place rack in smoker.

Place the potatoes in a single layer on the rack.

Cover the smoker with the seamless lid.

Place over medium to medium-high heat until potatoes are fork tender – approximately 20 minutes (white potatoes typically need a few more moments than sweet potatoes).

Assembling the potato salad

Cut smoked potatoes and sweet potatoes into 1″ dice and place in a large bowl.

Peel and dice hard-boiled eggs and add to the potatoes.

Add the crumbled bacon, diced celery, diced onions, shredded cheese and all but a few of the sliced scallions and gently stir to combine.

In a separate bowl whisk together all dressing ingredients until well combined.

Pour the dressing over the potato mixture and gently stir to combine.

Refrigerate until ready to serve.

Just before serving, taste and adjust salt and pepper as needed.

Top with reserved sliced scallions, serve and enjoy!

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Philadelphia in 36 Hours or Less

I cannot believe it’s Saturday already.  I’ve been wanting to write this post all week, but I’ve had a busy one so I’m just getting around to telling you about the trip Jeff and I took to Philly last weekend.  We went to celebrate my birthday (happy birthday to me – several days late) and to visit our still-really-new niece and nephew (congratulations to Vanessa & Justin on the birth of Tyson & Dylan).

Our journey began on Sunday morning after I finished making a lovely French country pate.  We hit the road at about 10 am and were making our first stop in Philly for lunch.  Jeff has been wanting to try a restaurant called South Philly Barbacoa and, since he never steers me wrong when it comes to food, I happily agreed to go.  Jeff read about South Philly Barbacoa in the May 2016 issue of Bon Appetit.  Adam Rapoport wrote about his recent trip to Philadelphia in an article entitled 32 Hours in Philly

SPB Storefront

We were pretty lucky finding a parking place only 1 block from the restaurant.  The restaurant is located in an area with all on-street parking so finding a space can be hit or miss.  The address for South Philly Barbacoa is 1703 S 11th Street, Philadelphia.  As we walked up to the restaurant, I knew from the whimsical exterior that I’d love it.

And I wasn’t wrong.  The restaurant is bright and cheery, but doesn’t have enough tables for the demand so we had to wait.  I’m not sure if ordering is always done at the counter or if we ordered that way because we happened to be waiting by the counter; but either way, standing near the counter built great anticipation for our taste buds and allowed us to peek at what was going on in the back.  Orders were being filled, tortillas were being made and there was much bustling of the staff.

We each ordered two small pork & lamb tacos and we added some condiments at the counter before proceeding to a finally-available table.  When we sat down, we got a glass of delicious a pineapple juice to share.  After snapping a few photos, we dug into our tacos.  As I was eating the first one, I was thinking that if I could only use one word to describe them, it would be delicious…no, it would be heavenly…..no, it would be comforting…..Clearly, they cannot be described with just one word.

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As I took the first bite of the second taco, I realized that there is a single word that could describe them……and that word it……..”holycrapthat’sspicy!”  I believe it was the pickled onion/pepper condiment that was the culprit.  I had just a bit of the condiment on the first taco and significantly more on the second one. After just one bite of that second taco I was sweating, trying to catch my breath and, to quote Cam from Modern Family after he tells Gloria he can spice her under the table any day, “I feel like I ate the sun!”  Even though it took a considerable amount of time for my tongue to return to normal size and to stop throbbing, I really did love the food at South Philly Barbacoa and will definitely give it another try!  I barely tasted the sweet tamale that Jeff ordered, so next time I’ll eat that before I burn off all my taste buds!

After lunch we wandered through the Italian Market – stopping at some of our favorite IMG_4048shops and enjoying one another’s company.  From there we headed to the hotel for check-in, which we were disappointed to learn would be delayed by at least an hour.  So we ran (ok, walked) a few errands – Jeff wanted to stop at The Art of Shaving to get some shaving cream and I needed to do an exchange of MAC lipstick at Macy’s. Then we went for a drink at the hotel bar.  Finally, after Jeff calling the front desk twice, we were able to check into our room with just enough time to shower and get dressed for dinner.

JamoneraSince it was technically my birthday celebration I was able to choose the restaurant.  (This is not a complaint, simply a fact – it usually has to be my birthday for me to get to choose the restaurant)  Initially I picked Barbuzzo (my favorite in Philly); but then I decided to really branch out and try one of their sister restaurants – Jamonera.  Being a Sunday evening, we were able to select their Sunday Tapas Tasting Menu.

If I’m being honest, after the first two dishes arrived, both Jeff and I were skeptical about whether the tapas tasting would fill us; however by the sixth dish we were slowing down and still expecting 4 more dishes.  The following is a list of what was offered for Tapas Tasting on our visit:

  • Charcuteria – cantimpalo chorizo, pickles, baguette
  • Grilled Ramps – salboxtada, spring onions, grilled bread
  • Manchego & Marconas – membrillo, marinated sheep’s milk cheese, pimenton
  • Scallop Crudo – pickled rhubarb, orange, Thai chilies, baby fennel, housemade lavash cracker
  • Cherry & Jamon Ensalada – housemade maraschino cherries, jamon Serrano, arugula, basil miticrema, marcona almonds
  • Papas Fritas – smoked garlic aioli, brava salt, housemade sherry vinegar hot sauce
  • Cantimpalo Tortilla – potato and egg omelet, mustard aioli mesclun greens
  • Crispy Calasparra Rice – sugar snap peas, manchego cheese, pickled mushrooms
  • Almejas – grilled Manilla clams, chistorra chorizo, saffon broth, local greens, parsley-almond picada, pickled ramps, grilled bread
  • Grilled Gulf Shrimp – gallega spice, castelvetrano olive puree, grilled plums, haricot vert, lemon

Wow!  What a menu.  The flavor combinations were unexpected, interesting and delicious.  In my opinion, the best dish of the night was the Crispy Calasparra Rice with pickled mushrooms – true comfort food.

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The service was attentive, but not intrusive. And a special thanks to our The Companyserver for running across the street in the rain for my favorite dessert – it’s a birthday tradition. The cocktails hit the spot. But the company – oh, the company was the best part!!!

Monday morning we got up early for room service coffee followed by a steamy walk in the city – can you say humid?  We persevered through the sticky streets, got a little exercise, snapped a few photos and found a cute spot for take-out breakfast.  I still cannot believe I was able to convince Jeff to order food from P.S.&Co., a vegan and gluten-free coffee-house/bakery.  P.S.&Co.’s website explains that they “aim to provide the cleanest, most delicious food that helps you feel incredible.  Our chef-driven menu is healthy in blueprint and decadent in taste.  No multisyllabic additives or peculiar preservatives.  We hope you’ll find our delicious, plant-strong food and beverages as a gateway to feeling and living your best life.”

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My first priority was a coffee – cold-brewed with filbert nut milk.  Then we got down to selecting breakfast.  I ordered coconut yogurt and a nut & seed bar.  Jeff ordered a breakfast sandwich and a brownie.  We walked back to the hotel to enjoy our breakfast and shower before driving to West Chester to see Vanessa, Justin and the babies.

In the interest of full disclosure, I have to tell you that I put sugar in my coffee (insert gasp here!).  I tried to go without, but that’s a habit that will be VERY hard (if not impossible) for me to break. Other than the coffee needing sugar, the rest of our purchases were delicious.  The coconut yogurt was not actually yogurt but a fauxgurt made from coconut and it was really yummy.  The seed and nut bar was quite tasty, if a little crumbly.  Jeff’s breakfast sandwich (on gluten-free bread) was really yummy and I have to admit that even the bread was good.  And the brownie – although not quite the texture of a typical brownie – hit the chocolate spot!

Shortly after breakfast, Jeff posted the following to his Facebook page – “Breaking news……I just ate a gluten free, vegan breakfast AND I actually lived to tell about it. I don’t see this being a trend, but baby steps are important. Now, onward to find a steak for lunch.”  He did not, in fact, have a steak for lunch!

Excited to See the Pak PackAfter a quick shower and repack, we were excited to get on the road to see the twinies.  There is truly something soothing about holding babies! And with twins it’s “two babies, no waiting!”  After ooh’ing and ahh’ing over Dylan & Tyson and switching who held whom, Justin returned from a morning of golf and we were all out the door for ‘dunch,’ or was it ‘linner?’

Jeff and I offered to bring food to the Pak pack, but they were all ready to get out of the house.  So we loaded into two cars and drove the short distance to Iron Hill Brewery.  We had a nice, quiet meal and then took a drive to see the not-too-distant-future home of the Pak pack.

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Finally, with full bellies and temporarily satisfied baby-holding-desires, we began the journey home.  All in all it was a wonderful, if short, trip to Philadelphia.  We ate some wonderful food, got our city-fix and spent time with one another and the Philly-pham.  Less than 36 hours later we were back at home!

Tubtrug! Gesundheit

I recently attended a meeting of the Rudy Gelnett Memorial Library Food for Thought Cookbook Club.  If you’re wondering about the evening, read my post entitled Food for Thought.  Today, however, I am referencing my time with that group for a different reason.

GS Box in Sunlight

Today, I opened a box from Gardener’s Supply Company. Stay with me – you know I have a tendency to SEEMINGLY get sidetracked; but if you hang in there long enough, I usually bring it back around!

Why am I telling you about opening a box from Gardener’s Supply in conjunction to a reference to a cookbook club?  Well, while at the meeting of the cookbook club one of the members, Mona, began taking the dish she had made out of an interesting carrier that I hadn’t seenGS Box before.  At least I thought I hadn’t seen it before until she told me about it and then I realized I had seen it before, just not in the context of a food carrier.

The carrier she was using is called a Tubtrug and is from…..drumroll please….Gardener’s Supply (GS).  GS bills it as “one of the most useful gardening tools.”  Among other things, GS recommends using it for:

  • mixing soil
  • rinsing vegetables
  • repotting plants
  • feeding the dog (depending on the size of your dog and the size of your Tubtrug you could bath the dog in a Tubtrug)
  • stashing mittens and/or hand tools
  • soaking your tired feet

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So in my many journeys through the GS catalog I have seen the Tubtrug, I just never thought of using it as a food carrier until I saw it in action and realized just how practical it is for the task.

I transport food quite a bit and I’ve had my fair share of spills and mishaps in my car – in fact, I had a run of several autos that were cursed with the smell of spilled milk and believe me if you’ve ever spilled milk in your car in the summer you know you DO cry over spilled milk.  But, I digress…..

I purchased the shallow 4-gallon Tubtrug – which measures 15″ in diameter at the top and is 6 1/2″ deep – perfect for many platters and bowls.  If something spills in it, you can easily rinse it out in the sink or with a hose AND you can buy a lid for the shallow 4-gallon Tubtrug – so I did.  The Tubtrug is flexible, but when you put the lid on it, it is less so – more sturdy and steady.  AND, Tubtrugs come in many sizes and colors.

Tubtrug & Lid

Tubtrug & Lid

I can envision using it not only to transport food, but also as an icy server for cold drinks at a picnic, as storage for large quantities of fruits from the market or for when I need a REALLY big bowl of chips!  I’m sure I’ll find many additional kitchen uses for my Tubtrug and will keep you posted if there are any especially great ones.

I suspect I might need to buy one or two more for in the garden as well. And I can envision them being great storage bins around the house too.

A quick search of ‘Tubtrug’ on Pinterest showed me the following uses for the Tubtrug:

  • toy storage
  • cleaning supply storage
  • mudroom storage (a different color for each family member)
  • laundry basket
  • pet toy storage
  • baby bathtub
  • hamper
  • tub toy storage

Do you have a Tubtrug?  How do you use it?

Thanks, Mona, for the suggestion.  I cannot wait to deliver a meal to someone just so I can use my new Tubtrug!!!

Becoming a Better Cook

One of the things I like best about working at The Kitchen Shoppe & Cooking School is the variety of items that make up my “job description.”  Among many others, one of the things I am responsible for is maintaining our Facebook page.  I know you’ll probably feels sorry for me when I tell you that that means I spend part of my day on Facebook looking at recipes, reading articles about cooking, sharing photos of food, responding to comments from our followers, commenting on other FB pages, spending time on Pinterest, posting new products that come into the shop, etc.

Yesterday, while I was enjoying my lunch I was also hanging out on Facebook where I found a great article from epicurious entitled 57 Things You Can Do to Be a Better Cook Right Now.  I skimmed through the article and then sent the link to my personal email so that I could read it more thoroughly later.  And that’s just what I did.

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There are so many good tips – some that I’ve shared in my classes and on the blog.  I found that, as a matter of course when I am cooking, I do all but 5 of the things the article recommends.

So, what are the 5?  And why don’t I do them?

  • 5. Four words to live by: chicken thigh family pack.
    I must confess that although I know that cooking with chicken thighs rather than breasts yields a ton of flavor and, because they contain more fat, they have a tendency to dry out less I simply do not care for the taste of chicken thighs.This is something I’ve tried to “get over.”  In fact, about once a year I like to try all the things I think I don’t like to see if my tastes have changed and sometimes I find – for some things – that they have.  For example, in the last several years I’ve started eating chicken livers, Brussels sprouts and Castelvetrano olives.  It used to be that I didn’t like ANY olives, but I am coming around.

 

  • 7. Join a CSA.
    I am so incredibly fortunate to have a husband who loves to garden.  So by the time August rolls around I am usually up to my eyeballs in all the fresh produce I can use (a good problem to have)!  I have absolutely nothing against CSA’s and sometimes I consider joining just to try things that Jeff doesn’t grow; but over the years he’s really expanded his garden and there isn’t a lot that falls into that category!

 

  • 19. Save the schmaltz.
    I have never saved chicken fat.  Not for any reason in particular, just because I haven’t done it.  But I do save bacon fat from time to time.

 

  • 35. Don’t toast your toast. Fry it.
    If I am eating toast – which isn’t a frequent thing on my plate – then it does go in the toaster.  I find the toaster less messy and I can skip the butter or oil and use those calories for chocolate!  I have, however, been known to “fry” a muffin from time to time.  Muffins are not something we have in the house often (although many years ago I went through a season of insomnia and was known to bake muffins VERY early on Saturday mornings.  Fortunately, I sleep like a baby again!) but when there are muffins here I like to cut them in half, slather them with a “healthy” amount of butter and put them buttered-side down in a hot skillet until they turn golden and crisp. Mmm mmm mmm!

 

  • 53. Air-dry your chickens.
    To date, I have not air-dried my chickens – I also don’t count them before they’re hatched.  But I will definitely be giving it a try to see if it really does produce crackly, crunch, golden-brown skin!

And what are my 5 favorite tips from the article?  That’s going to be difficult to answer because (1) there are many good tips and (2) it kind of depends on what you’re making….

  • 1. Buy an instant-read digital meat thermometer.
    If I have to guess when a piece of meat or fish is done, I usually over cook them.  Using an instant-read thermometer has DEFINITELY improved my cooking!

 

  • 4. Get your knives professionally sharpened.
    Working with a sharp knife is incredibly important from a safety standpoint and from an efficiency one.  And I happen to know where you can get your knives sharpened.  Dan at The Kitchen Shoppe & Cooking School will do a great job sharpening your knives.  The current cost for sharpening is $3.95 per blade or $19.95 for 6 blades.  We recommend calling the shop before you come in to make sure he’s in – especially if you’d like to have them sharpened while you wait!  You can call us at (717) 243-0906.

 

  • 15. Keep your parmesan rinds and freeze them for later.
    Parmesan rinds make an excellent addition to homemade stocks, soups and sauces.  It’s a great way to use a part of the cheese that is often considered waste and it will add a new level of flavor and saltiness to the foods you slip it into.

 

  • 22. Find the biggest mixing bowl you can and buy it.
    My friends in the prep kitchen refer to me as being “volumetrically challenged” and I am.  I can never select the right size bowl for a task, which means I’m often washing more bowls than necessary because I chose one that was too small the first time.  Start with a much bigger bowl than you think you’ll need and avoid unnecessary bowl washing!

 

  • 51. Keep your vegetable scraps.
    Those people who have come to my classes (or those folks who work behind the scenes at them) have heard me say countless time to save your veggie scraps.  And they’ve also heard me tell about how frustrated Jeff gets when he tries to put something in the freezer and there is no room because it’s filled with chicken carcasses and veggie “ends.”  But, when he eats something that I’ve made with my homemade stock he is reminded that fighting for freezer space is worth it!

I hope you read the epicurious article and get some helpful hints.  I’d love to hear what your top 5 favorite tips are from the article!!!!  Leave a comment below!

 

 

FYI: The featured image for this post is actually a screen shot of the article on epicurious’s site.  You know I like to give credit where credit is due.

Moroccan Kimchi!??!

If you’ve been reading for a while or you’ve known me for any length of time you know I’m always looking to try something new – so a few weeks ago when the Fermentation Creation food fermentation kit arrived at the shop and Dan gave me one to play with I was in heaven.

Fermentation Creation Label

The timing was no coincidence – although I didn’t know the Fermentation Creation was on the way, I have been doing a lot of reading about the health benefits of fermented foods and I had just purchased a delicious container of Kimchi from one of the local Asian markets and used it in a funky Kimchi Stirfry recipe.

I should confess that I’ve never made Kimchi before.  I’ve never made sauerkraut before.  In fact, other than beer, I’ve never made anything fermented before.  But I’m not one to let a little thing like inexperience stop me!

I unpacked my fermentation kit and here is what I found:

Fermentation Creation Kit Contents

Fermentation Creation Kit Contents Up Close

I visited Fermentation Creation’s recipe book online and took a trip to the grocery store for the ingredients.  I purchased Napa cabbage and daikon radishes.  I thought I had everything else I needed in the pantry, so I began washing, cutting and chopping the veggies.

Kimchi Veggies

A quick lesson in julienning daikon radishes and carrots.  First, peel the veg you wish to julienne.  Then cut it into pieces the length you desire for your finished julienne.

Cutting Daikon Radish 1

Since the daikon radishes and carrots are round, you want to create a flat surface so you can safely work with it.

Cutting Daikon Radish 2

Next, with the newly exposed flat side down, cut the halves into planks.

Cutting Daikon Radish 3

Finally, cut the planks into match sticks.

Cutting Daikon Radish 4

Cutting Carrots

After I got all my veggies cut, I salted them and put them in a colander (in the sink or over a bowl) to drain.

Napa Cabbage Daikon and Carrot

Salted Veggies Draining in Sink

While the veggies drained (for a very lllooonnnggg time) I prepared the marinade which included chopped red onion, kosher salt, Sambel Oelek Chili Paste, minced ginger, sugar, and lime juice.

Making Marinade 1Making Marinade 2

Sambel Oelek Chili Paste is an Asian condiment made of fiery red chilies, vinegar and salt.  Unfortunately, I didn’t have any Sambel Oelek – but I was too far into the process to be deterred.  I did have Harissa – which is a Moroccan condiment made from spicy chili peppers, paprika and olive oil.  So I threw caution to the wind and added the Harissa along with some rice vinegar.

Making Marinade 3

After the veggies had drained for the very lllooonnnggg time, I rinsed them, squeezed them dry and packed them into the jar.

Filling the Jar

Finally, I poured the marinade over the veggies and followed the instructions to cap the jar and place the airlock in place.

Airlock

Well, if I thought I had to wait a lllooonnnggg time for the salted veggies to drain, I was in for a rude awakening.  The hardest part of making my Moroccan Kimchi was waiting for the fermentation to happen.  Every day I stared longingly at the jar on the counter wishing I could open it and give it a taste.  However, I read that it is ideal to let your Kimchi ferment for two weeks.   So I waited a rrreeeaaallllllyyy lllllloooooonnnnnnggggg time.

Finally, today, I opened the jar.  I was filled with excitement, desire and a bit of reluctance – what if my Moroccan Kimchi experiment was a bust?  What if Harissa was the worst choice I could have made?  What if I waited two weeks only to find out my Kimchi was a failure?

Finished Kimchi 1

Finished Kimchi 2

Finished Kimchi 3

Fortunately, my reluctance was unfounded.  The kimchi is terrific.  IMO, it has just the right amount of heat – that is to say a lot, but not so much that it blows the top of your head off or scorches the roof of your mouth – and just the right amount of vinegariness (is that a word)!!!

To paraphrase Martha Stewart – “Moroccan Kimchi…it’s a good thing!”

 

Food for Thought

A special note of thanks to the wonderful women – especially Gretchen – at the Rudy Gelnett Memorial Library Food for Thought Cookbook Club for making me feel so welcome last night!

gelnett library

 

I spent the evening celebrating one of my favorite cookbooksThe Silver Palette by Sheila Lukins & Julee Rosso – and learning about a new-to-me cookbook – Mary Berry’s Baking Bible.  I got a new appreciation for the recipes in an old favorite cookbook and learned about a too-well-hidden English gem known as traybake.

The ladies of the Food for Thought Cookbook Club get together every-other month to celebrate a different cookbook.  Each person makes a recipe from the featured book and they share a time of fellowship and have a lively exchange of tips and hints for each of the recipes being enjoyed that evening.  At the end of the evening, they make their selection for the next (or next few) book(s).  The books, of course, are available at the library!

Next month’s book for the Food for Thought Cookbook Club offers a picnic theme and in November, they’ll be celebrating my favorite cookbook author and food personality, Ina Garten, for the release of her new book Cooking for Jeffrey.

Although I had just a few moments after the group disbanded to peek into the library, I was able to see that it is an absolutely beautiful space with lots of natural light and a large, welcoming children’s library.  In addition to the cookbook club, the library offers many other activities including a fundraiser in December called Tree Fest where Christmas trees are decorated based on children’s books and the community votes for their favorite tree.

If you ever find yourself in Selinsgrove, PA – take a few minutes to explore the library – although it may not fill your belly, this library (like all libraries) offers much food for thought!!!!

Saturday’s Pizza on the Big Green Egg

I spent the day on Saturday at The Kitchen Shoppe hanging out with folks who were learning about the Big Green Egg.  I’ve written about the BGE in previous posts and believe I have explained that to call the BGE a grill is the understatement of the century.  Yes, you can grill on the BGE, but you can also do sooo much more – you can bake, smoke, and roast too.

On Saturday, I was cooking pizzas on the BGE.  My assignment from Dan, our BGE guru and my boss, was to do an INTERESTING pizza.  Other than those traditionalist who only eat their pizza with red sauce and cheese, the pizza was well received.  So much so that I was asked to post about it on the blog.

On the BGE

So here’s what I did:

  • The Dough – I used Gran Mugnano ’00’ flour in my old-favorite pizza dough recipe – Jimmy & Jeff’s Pizza Dough (see below)
  • The Toppings – Stonewall Kitchen’s Fig & Ginger Jam (replaced the sauce), julienned prosciutto, crumbled blue cheese, arugula (lightly dressed with olive oil, salt and pepper) and a few shavings of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
  • The Temperature – between 600 and 700 degrees F
  • The Tools – pizza peel coated with a healthy layer of corn meal, pizza lifter (like a giant, round spatula), pizza cutter
  • The Charcoal – a mix of Wicked Good Jake’s Blend and Big Green Egg
  • The Time – about 6 to 10 minutes – until the desired doneness is achieved

Before Being Fully Devoured

In addition to the pizza, folks who came out for the Big Green Egg lesson with Dan also ate pulled pork, spice rubbed chicken, BBQ salmon, and 1 1/2″ thick steaks cooked at 700 degrees F.

The food was delish, the weather was cooperative and the company was wonderful.  What’s your favorite pizza on the Big Green Egg?????


Jimmy & Jeff’s Pizza Dough

by mmm mmm mmm

Keywords: pizza

Ingredients

  • 1 package active dry yeast (2 tsp)
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1/4 cup warm water (115 degrees F)
  • 3 cups “00” flour
  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • 1 Tbsp honey
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 3/4 cup warm water (115 degrees F)

Instructions

Combine yeast and sugar in a bowl large enough to hold approximately 2 cups of liquid. Add 1/4 cup water, stir and let bloom (about 5 to 10 minutes).

While yeast blooms, place 3 cups of flour and 1 tsp sea salt in to bowl of a food processor. Whirl to blend.

After the yeast mixture blooms, add the honey, olive oil and 3/4 cup warm water. Stir with a whisk.

With the food processor running, add the yeast mixture through the feed tube.

Mix until the dough pulls away from the sides of the work bowl and forms a ball.

Remove the dough from the food processor and knead for a few minutes to remove air bubbles. Dough should be soft and elastic.

Shape dough into a ball and place in a lightly oiled bowl. Cover with plastic wrap.

Let rise for several hours. The longer the better. You can let the dough rise overnight in the refrigerator with great results.

After the first rise, punch the dough down, divide it in half, form each half into a ball and let it rise again for about an hour (or more if necessary).

Shape the dough and top it with your favorite ingredients.

Bake in a hot oven (500 degrees F) or cook on the grill.

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My New Favorite Condiment!!!

So I recently discovered a new condiment and I am ADDICTED with a capital ADDICTED.  So much so that Jeff asked me if I plan to put it in everything I cook!

calabrian chile paste

What is it?  Calabrian Chile Paste! It is made by crushing Calabrian peperoncino (dried peppers) with olive oil.

It has a kick, but in a great way.  And it is a terrific flavor enhancer.

So far I’ve used it in Pasta with Vodka Cream Sauce, Baked Shrimp Scampi and as part of a sandwich spread mixed with mayonnaise and orange marmalade.  But trust me, those recipes are just the beginning a beautiful friendship!

Unfortunately I haven’t been able to find it locally YET; however I’m working on Dan at The Kitchen Shoppe!  For now, the best deal I’ve found is online at Nordstrom’s and the best part – free shipping!

If you love spicy foods, you’ve got to give it a try!  And if you’re not a big fan of spicy, a little bit will boost the flavor of ho-hum recipes.

What’s your favorite condiment?

My Own Kind of Kind

American writer Henry James once wrote:

“Three things in human life are important: the first is to be kind; the second is to be kind; and the third is to be kind.”

While I agree, I also think he forgot one…..the fourth is to make kind.  Or at least to make a knock-off of you favorite Kind Bars!

That’s just what I did yesterday – thanks to Jeff and the folks at “the kitchn.”  Not only did Jeff find a recipe for me to use to replicate my favorite smoked almond kind bars on “the kitchn’s” site, but he also picked up some bulk nuts and seeds for me when he was in Lancaster on Thursday.

Where can you find the recipe for Smoked Almond Snack Bars!  Right here!

So, how’d it go?  The recipe was sooooo easy!  The only thing I think was missing from the instructions was to say that peeling the parchment paper off the bars has to happen at just the right moment.  If you try to take it off too soon, you may feel like throwing the whole mess in the trash.  But if you let them sit a bit longer, it will peel right off.

I made a triple batch in a half-sheet tray (approximately 12″ x 18″) and was able to get 30 bars that are approximately 1 3/4″ x 4″ – a great snack size! I used 1/3 smoked and salted almonds and 2/3 plain almonds.  I used a bit less salt than was called for because the smoked almonds were salted.  And I used a bit less than 1 tsp. of Liquid Smoke for a triple batch.

Because I had to run Macy to the spa, my bars cooled for about 35 minutes after they came out of the oven.  I did have to put them back into the oven for about 2 minutes to get them out of the pan – but fortunately the recipe told me how to handle such a situation! After I cut the bars and let them cool for several hours, I wrapped them in waxed paper and am storing them in the freezer per the recipe instructions.

So how does the recipe rate?

4 and 1_2 ms

I’d give it 4 1/2 M’s out of 5….the taste is great, it yielded the promised amount and the instructions were informative. The only thing missing was the information about removing the parchment paper – of course, the recipe writer may not have had trouble with that step.  But there’s always room for improvement, right?

Let me know how it goes if you make them!!!!

Hope & Blueberry Macarons

As a cooking instructor,  I go into each class with a passion for the food I am presenting, gratitude to be able to do what I love and hope. Hope that I don’t cut off a finger, drop something, burn myself or otherwise get myself into an embarrassing situation from which I cannot recover.  Hope that everything runs smoothly and that I’ve planned and prepared well.  Hope that my helpers (to whom I affectionately refer as my “backup singers”) remain safe and energetic.  Hope that my students enjoy the food I serve, will use one or two of the recipes again and are having a good time.  And hope that I can inspire someone to stretch their skills or try something they didn’t think they could do.

With demonstration style classes, it is easier to “read the room” and to know if your information is hitting the mark with students.  Because most everyone is listening at the same time to the information I am presenting, I usually only share information once – of course, there is the occasional question for clarification or the random “I missed that, could you say it again?”

In contrast, when I am teaching a hands-on style class, it is more difficult to know if everyone is understanding what I’m saying.  Often there are one-on-one conversations happening – between and among students, with me and one or two students, etc. – and folks are working at their own pace.  There are times in hands-on classes when I’m giving an explanation or I am showing a technique and some people miss it.  This is the nature of hands-on classes.  As much as I try to stop and reiterate the important points, I know some things get missed.

And with all classes, regardless of the type, there are some folks who give immediate feedback while I’m teaching a recipe, some folks who comment and/or ask questions at the end of class, and some who leave without comment.  I welcome feedback.  I like to hear what students think about what they’ve eaten, techniques they’ve learned, experiences they’ve had, etc.  I appreciate constructive suggestions and, if I’m being completely honest, I appreciate the occasional “ata girl” too!

So this past week, when I answered the phone at work – the way I usually do, “Good morning…The Kitchen Shoppe….this is Janice….may I help you?” – and heard in reply “oh good, just the person I wanted to speak with” my interest was piqued!  It was a student – K.S. – from my recent hands-on macaron class with a question.

We talked briefly and she told me about her recent adventures in macaron making. Before we hung up I promised to email her some information as soon as I could locate it.  Fortunately, I was able to get my hands on it pretty quickly and had the email off to her in short order.  Just as quickly I received a reply with a brief note and a photo attachment.  The first paragraph ended with “I’ve attached a picture for you ~ I’m so happy about how they turned out!”

Not sure what to expect, I was pleasantly surprised to see this:

macaronsblue

Beautiful macaron shells.  Glossy, smooth tops.  Perfect “pieds” – or frilly feet – on the bottom.  A pretty color.  As an instructor my heart soared!  Clearly K.S. had learned what I’d been teaching that rainy Tuesday night in November!  There’s just something satisfying about being a part of someone else’s learning process…

Of course, I replied that I was so proud to see a pic of her labor of love.  And K.S. blessed me with another photo:

macaronsbluefilled

A plate of perfection!  They look so good I can almost feel the crisp shells melting in my mouth.  And it did not escape my notice that the backdrop was a beautiful cloth with an illustration of French lavender.  A little nod to the French macarons!

Thank you, thank you, thank you to K.S. for providing feedback, for sharing her photos, and for giving me permission to share them with you.  Now there’s just one more thing I hope….that they tasted as good as they look!

In Deep Shishito

OK, true confession time…..I began writing this post on December 4th.  I know, I know….it HAS been a while since I’ve written.  But in my defense, Christmas time in retail is REALLY busy!

So let’s pretend it hasn’t been 44 days since I started the post.  I KNOW you can grant me the grace of using your imagination!  Read on – with love and forgiveness in your hearts!

I cannot believe my stomach is actually growling as I type these words – if you had asked me on Sunday, I would have told you I was too full to EVER EAT AGAIN!

Jeff and I were running errands in Hershey after church and we were both hungry…..when he asked me where I wanted to go I told him I was hungry for a burger.  Of course, ever prepared, he steered me toward Grantville.

I know I’ve shared this previously, but for purposes of this story I need to reiterate that Jeff is a BBQ guy.  He LLLLLOOOOOVVVVVEEEEESSSSS bbq. I tolerate his bbq fetish, but do not readily admit to being a BBQ gal.  Oh, I know, I’ve written about bbq – particularly during our trip to Texas (see Always Bet on Blacks) – and I usually enjoy the bbq restaurants I begrudgingly go to with Jeff, but for some reason I have (or more accurately HAD) it in my head that bbq is not really my thing.

Today, in part due to a fabulous burger experience, I am proud to admit that while I wasn’t paying attention I’ve become a bbq gal!

I write all this to explain that I was less-than-enthused when Jeff suggested a bbq joint when I said I was hungry for a burger.  The mean-spirited, hangry part of me wanted to dig in my heels; but the part of my stomach that knows Jeff very rarely steers me wrong when it comes to food won out.

Shakedown Sign

While we were driving to Grantville Jeff explained to me that he had heard that Shakedown BBQ has some amazing burgers.  So I waited to pass judgment until I tasted them.  I passed the time on the ride looking at Shakedown’s burger menu – there were some truly interesting burgers on the menu, but the one that caught my eye was named In Deep Shishito (IDS).  Having just learned about shishito peppers in the last year and being a lover of pickled ginger, the IDS sounded too good to be true.

The description:

“Bacon – Cooper – Shishito Peppers Wikipedia – Grilled Onion – Pickled Ginger – Asian BBQ Sauce – Habanero Mayo – Cilantro – Texas Toast”

I know, it’s not your traditional burger, but my mouth was watering just thinking about it.  So we ordered one IDS and one The 98 to share.

The 98, Chris’s riff on the Big Mac, is described as follows:

“Bacon – Cooper – Lettuce – Tomato – Onion – Pickles – 1000 Island – Texas Toast”

While we were waiting for our food, we introduced ourselves to Chris – the owner – and told him about our BBQ quest in Texas.  He shared that he had been to the same places we had gone and then some – and not just in Texas but across the country.

Chris brought us a piece of Shakedown’s brisket to try and it was heavenly.  Not since Black’s in Lockhart, Texas had I tasted such a wonderful piece of brisket.  It melted in your mouth, had just the right smokiness and the sauce was a perfect complement to the meat – spicy, but not too and tangy, but not too.

The brisket, however, was forgotten as soon as I took the first heavenly messy bite of the In Deep Shishito.  It was the messiest burger I’ve ever eaten – and I mean that as a complete compliment!  It was also the tastiest.  It was like bbq and asian food had a party in my mouth!

The 98 was good – really good – but in my never-to-be-unshared opinion, it had nothing on the IDS!  Had I not tasted the IDS, I would have said The 98 was a great burger (and it would have been a completely truthful description) but the IDS just completely outdid (and outdoes) every other burger I’ve ever eaten.  It is an explosion of flavors – most of them a seemingly unlikely combination of tastes – of the absolute best kind!

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After we finished eating, Chris generously took us on a “tour” to the smokers.  We talked more about bbq and raved about the food.  I told Chris – and I mean it – that often when we go to restaurants we are disappointed because we can make at home what we had eaten and it is as good as, if not better than the restaurant version for a fraction of the price; but that this restaurant visit did not disappoint in any way.  The food was fresh, tasty and passionately prepared.

Fast forward to today (January 17th) and another trip to Shakedown.  Jeff and I took my mom and dad to have the Shakedown BBQ experience.  Of course I raved about the IDS the entire way from our house to Grantville!

We arrived and the first question my mom asked when we pulled into the parking lot was, “This is it?”  Ok, I should explain it’s a tiny place.  And I will also tell you that both times we were there, it was chilly inside – this is not a complaint, simply a note so that you can plan accordingly for your trip to Shakedown.  Today I wore jeans and a sweatshirt and only my hands were chilly.

Of course, once your food arrives and the burger juices are dripping down your arms, you won’t care what the temperature is inside.  And even better, if you order the IDS – which I cannot recommend highly enough – your mouth will be on fire.  The combination of “every 10th shishito is a hot one,” the Habanero mayonnaise and the warmth of the pickled ginger light the best kind of fire on your tongue!

In Deep Shishito

Mimi’s assessment – “unique, juicy, messy, who ever thought of putting pickled ginger on a burger – genius! And French fries – to die for.  Great pulled pork – not too much sauce so you can taste the complex flavors of the smoked meat. The real deal.”  Mimi had the pulled pork sandwich with coleslaw on it.

Pop-Pop’s assessment – “among the best burgers I’ve ever had and probably the best French fries I’ve ever had. The only burger I can think of that rivals this one was at The Village Whiskey (about which I’ve previously written) in Philadelphia.  The homemade thousand island dressing was awesome.” Pop-Pop ordered The 98.

Jeff’s assessment – “amazing. Bangin’.”  Jeff had a special – the Reuben.  I will add to Jeff’s assessment of the reuben – truly the best Rueben I’ve ever had – the smoky flavor of the corned beef brisket was delectable.  And – some of you will understand this – this reuben is wwwaaayyy better than Reuben’s Reuben (what happens when you put a narcissist in charge of snack time)!

The fries that we all raved about – beer battered bbq rubbed fries.  Need I say more?

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Of course, Chris came out to the table and chatted with us for a few minutes.  He talked about changing the menu and my heart skipped a beat.  I said, with obvious concern in my voice, “No – not the IDS – please don’t take it off the menu.”  Chris began talking about the limited availability of shishito peppers in the winter and I think I stared to pass out.  If you taste the IDS, you’ll understand why my blood pressure spikes at the idea of not being able to get an IDS when I’m craving one.  It’s a bit of a masochistic experience – a bit of the gratification of the IDS comes from the “painful” heat from the shishitos, Habanero mayo and pickled ginger.

We oohed and ahhhed through our meal – sharing bites of everything on the table. Then when we were finished, we mopped off with wet wipes and dried off with paper towels.  We bussed our table and on the way out I told Chris – with 100% seriousness – that am not above groveling for him to keep the In Deep Shishito on the menu.  Today is the first day of the week and I can already tell you the IDS will be the best thing I eat all week!

Shakedown – follow the smoke to one of the best meals you’ll ever have! And check them out on Instagram & Facebook.

Have you been to Shakedown?  Please share your experience below!  If you haven’t, what are you waiting for – you need to go ASAP!!!

The List

I’m crossing things off the list.  No, not the naughty list, although it is that time of year.  This is a different holiday list.

Since Jeff and I are hosting Thanksgiving for my family at our house, the list making began yesterday.  I can’t complain about the process of making the list – it was actually quite fun.  We each got a cup of coffee, snuggled under the covers with our Thanksgiving recipes and began THE LIST.

Thanksgiving 2015 List

What is The List……it’s our way of staying organized and not dreading holiday company and it has three major components.

First, the list of all the items we will serve for the meal. Some of the items are old favorites and some are new additions.  Some we will make and others have been assigned to other family members.  Here’s what the 2015 menu looks like:

  • Turkey (brined and cooked on the Big Green Egg)
  • Stuffing – Laura
  • Mashed Potatoes – Mimi
  • Corn Pie
  • Brussels Sprouts with Maple Bourbon Glaze
  • Cranberry Apple Sauce
  • Gravy
  • Sautéed Pears with Bacon & Mustard Dressing
  • Pumpkin Pie – Pop-Pop

It’s a carb-heavy menu I know – but you have to give the people what they want!!!!

Now for the second component of the list.  The daily tasks.  We write the tasks we will do each day – including calendar items from our “regular life” so that nothing is forgotten.  As we match Thanksgiving tasks with days, we work backwards, filling in things that can get done early where there is time available.  We also try to schedule some “me time” or “us time” on the list so we’re not completely burnt out by the holiday.

The following is the tasks section from The List:

SATURDAY:

  • confirm food assignments
  • buy small roller cover
  • make applesauce
  • 2nd coat of paint on bench
  • gym
  • call cuisinart
  • bathe Macy
  • state store
  • make chicken cordon bleu meatloaf
  • fix cords on bedroom television

SUNDAY:

  • hang hooks
  • wash sheets
  • clean upstairs
  • clean master bathroom
  • gym
  • grocery shop for all but perishables
  • make pizza dough for Barb’s party
  • make meatballs and sauce for Monday night dinner
  • bake sweet potatoes for lunches
  • make soup for tonight’s dinner

MONDAY:

  • J&J work
  • Jeff men’s ministry in p.m.
  • buy charcoal
  • take beer to KS for party
  • finish painting bench
  • iron napkins

TUESDAY

  • Jeff ear doctor
  • clean living room, kitchen, powder room
  • get pumpkin beer from Craig
  • corn out of freezer
  • chicken drippings and broth out of freezer
  • wax bench
  • pick up turkey
  • Barb’s party

WEDNESDAY

  • finish cleaning
  • walk with Macy
  • brine turkey
  • make corn pie
  • prep Brussels sprouts
  • crisp bacon for pears
  • prep gravy ingredients
  • prep sautéed pear ingredients
  • make dressing for pears
  • get BGE ready (chips, charcoal, drip pan, etc.)
  • set table
  • set buffet table

THURSDAY

  • 3:00 am – light BGE
  • 3:30 am – turkey on BGE
  • make gravy
  • make sautéed pears
  • last-minute straightening
  • fill water glasses
  • ENJOY company

Finally, the last component of The List is the groceries.  We make two grocery lists…..one we will use on Sunday when we purchase everything except the perishables and the other for those things that have to be purchased at the last minute.

To save time at the store – which we all know will be quite crowded no matter when we go this week – the list is sorted into categories.  I won’t share the entire list with you, but the categories are as follows:

  • Produce
  • Meats
  • Bakery
  • Dairy
  • Snacks
  • Baking
  • Dry & Prepared
  • Frozen
  • Liquor Store
  • Miscellaneous

I don’t always sort my grocery lists this way, but I’d say I do about 85% of the time and I miss it when I don’t have it sorted.  The days I don’t take the extra time to sort my lists are the ones I find myself wandering back and forth through the store because I’ve missed something in produce and don’t discover it until I’m in the frozen foods section.

If you’re new to hosting holidays, I’d strongly encourage you to find your version of The List.  Our way won’t work for everyone, but it is a great jumping off point.  Knowing what you need to do each day will keep you from panicking or being overloaded on the actual holiday.

A funny story from one of our early Thanksgivings – one that I’m sure is not unique to us, but from which I hope someone can learn.  I’m not sure it was the first time we were hosting Thanksgiving, but it may have been.  I didn’t realize Jeff had purchased a frozen turkey.  I didn’t discover that fact until Wednesday evening when I began thinking about what time I needed to put the bird into the oven.  Well, after many phone calls with my mom, I’m sure a few tears and some panic, Jeff and I were up most of the night changing the water in the bathtub to thaw the turkey (which was so large it didn’t fit in our kitchen sink).

I wish I could say that was the year that inspired The List; but we are slow learners.  It wasn’t until many more panicky holiday moments that we realized a list would save us stress, long nights and a more than one argument!  So from years of holiday experience, I present to you The List!

My Sweet Spot

Many years ago I read a book entitled “Cure for the Common Life: Living in Your Sweet Spot” by Max Lucado.  I didn’t know it at the time I read it, but there were big changes coming down the pike in my life!!! Fast forward to today and I’ve found that – somewhat unknowingly – have I put into practice what I learned in the book.

Lucado offers “the big idea” at the beginning of the book when he writes:

“Use your uniqueness (what you do)

to make a big deal out of God (why you do it)

every day of your life (where you do it).

At the convergence of all three, you’ll find the cure for the common life: your sweet spot.”

He illustrates “the big idea” with this diagram:

Sweet Spot Diagram

So why am I writing about this?  Because today I received the gift of one of those rare glimpses of what it means to live in your sweet spot!  I love teaching cooking classes and I enjoy every class I teach, but today was different from many of the other classes in that it really felt like everything came together at just the right time, in just the right way, with just the right people.

Does that mean that today was perfect?  Nope!  There is no such thing as a perfect day.  But it came pretty close and even those minor glitches in the day caused me no alarm or unease.

So how do you find your sweet spot?  Well, Lucado suggests studying your S.T.O.R.Y.  And, based on my experiences over the last many years, I happen to agree.  So what does S.T.O.R.Y. stand for?

  1. What are your STRENGTHS?  In my case, I believe my strength is in teaching – being able to take a concept and explain (either verbally or in writing (which also made me a pretty good technical writer)) it in a way that is understandable to people. Although there will be a few of you out there who share teaching as a strength, I suspect for most of you your strength will be something else.
  2. What is your TOPIC?  My topic is food.  I enjoy working with it, eating it, experimenting with it, etc.  Again, your topic will likely be different.
  3. What are your OPTIMAL CONDITIONS? For each of us, this will be different – some will like a more structured, predictable situation and others a more loose, variable situation.  I like the variety of coming up with different food combinations and playing with my food!
  4. What about RELATIONSHIPS? Do you function best alone or surrounded by other people?  Do you work best as part of a team or as an individual contributor.  I love the interplay between me and my students and I greatly appreciate the support of the team of people it takes to deliver a great class.  It is never simply about the instructor!
  5. What makes you say, “YES!”  It is when your strengths, topic, optimal conditions and relationships intersect that you find your YES!

Today, I was given the gift of my YES!  So here’s a shout out to all the people who came to the class and worked the class.  Without you I doubt my Yes! would have been possible!!!!!

P.S.  The menu for today included:

  • Creamy Bacon Pasta with Coffee Rubbed Scallops
  • Caramelized Onion & Butternut Squash Soup w/ Chipotle Coffee Cream
  • Fennel & Prosciutto Salad with Honey -Coffee Vinaigrette
  • Coffee Crusted Filet of Beef
  • Braised Cabbage with Coffee, Molasses & Bacon
  • Cappuccino Cheesecake

The following is a snap of the soup – it looked too pretty not to photograph!!!!

Processed with Rookie Cam

A Day Out

Jeff and I love meandering…..and we love it even better when our friend Ron comes along!  So when we found ourselves with a free day on Saturday, rather than spend the day inside doing housework (which trust me our house could really use) we decided to take a ride.

We didn’t really have A destination in mind.  One of my regular students recently told me about a newish brew pub she’d been to so we made the Rusty Rail Brewing Company in Mifflinburg a stop on our itinerary and planned the rest of the day accordingly.

After a less-than-smooth start (tires needed air, car needed gas, etc.) we finally got on the road.  When we set off on these adventures, we typically stick to back roads – winding through the countryside allows you to get some amazing pics and gives you a lot of time for conversation – and Saturday was no exception to that rule.

Our journey on Saturday included a small grocery store, a winery, a greenhouse, a cruise past Middleswarth Potato Chip Factory in Middleburg, a deep-discount grocery (think scratch-and-dent), the brewing company, Peight’s Country Store in Belleville, a side-of-the-road pumpkin stand (or two), and miles of beautiful countryside!!!

The following are some of the pics from the adventure!

SHADE MOUNTAIN VINEYARD & A PUMPKIN STAND ALONG THE WAY

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THE RUSTY RAIL BREWING COMPANY

We ate lunch at the Rusty Rail Brewing Company.  We shared an order of onion rings, I ordered a bowl of chili with cornbread croutons, Ron ordered the appetizer portion rib, and Jeff ordered a roast beef sandwich with French fries.

The food was good, but not quite great.  It has the potential to be great but needs a little attention to detail.  The sandwich needed a little oomph (sauce or a condiment of some sort), the chili needed a little less sugar and the rib (according to Ron) was on the dry side.

The service was mostly good, although when we asked to switch tables – because the one we were seated at was quite wobbly – rather than moving us to one of the many empty tables around us, the hostess and waitress tried several things to un-wobble the table and were marginally successful.  But other than that, we were well taken care of.

The décor was quite fun – theme-y and historical but it still felt current.  There was plenty of natural light and lots of interesting things at which to look.

And Jeff really enjoyed the sampler of beer he ordered.  I – not being much of a beer person – had a few sips from the flight and liked what I tasted!

With a few tweaks, The Rusty Rail Brewing Company could get an A from me!

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ALONG THE JOURNEY

After lunch, as we continued our sojourn, we came across a field of wildflowers that reminded me much more of spring than of fall.  We stopped for a little while so Ron and I could snap some photos.  Then we continued on a little ways and came across a pumpkin stand at which we could not resist buying a few pumpkin to add to the decorations on our front porch.

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We took a very remote, very scenic road through Bald Eagle State Forest and, although I was widely criticized for how slowly I was driving, I enjoyed being in the mountains and seeing the sights!  There’s something about the air up that high that clears your head and makes you forget everything below.

We ended the day in The Big Valley – a regular stop on our journeys with Ron.  We drove around the valley and enjoyed seeing the sights in the somewhat dreary weather. It’s funny, we anticipated a warm, sunny trip but we hit everything from rain to snow to some bright, juicy sunshine along the way. But no matter the climate, we enjoyed one another’s company.  A day with friends is a great day in any weather!

Something’s Brewing…..

No, it’s not a witch’s brew….although there ARE those who would insist that if I am involved in the process it IS a witch’s brew!!!  It’s actually a pumpkin beer.

Now, I must confess right off the bat that I’m not much of a beer person.  I like a cold one every now and then – especially a Sam Adams Cherry Wheat on a hot summer day after cutting the grass – but I am by no means a microbrew, craft beer or even a mainstream beer aficionado.  However, I always jump at the chance to learn something new and I love kitchen (or in this case part kitchen, mostly garage) experiments!

So when my handsome husband, Jeff, and his friend Craig invited me to participate in the process of their latest beer creation, I grabbed my camera and went along for the ride!  In this experiment, Craig is the beer Batman and Jeff is Robin.  So what does that make me?  Perhaps Batgirl-twice-removed!?! A sidekick, but not the one everyone knows and certainly not one with Batman’s powers.

Anyway, enough of the comic metaphors…..let’s get to it.

This all started when Jeff told me Craig had asked him about what spices to use for a pumpkin beer.  Of course, asked for my two cents, I put in about $1.99 (i.e., more than anyone wanted).  I went on a rant (I know you find this difficult to believe) about how I thought pumpkin beers should taste like something other than pumpkin pie and how everyone uses cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, etc.  and how Craig and Jeff should do something different.

My mind went to star anise, fennel, pink peppercorns……ultimately to Chinese Five Spice.  And someone’s mind – I think Jeff’s – went to cooking the pumpkin on the Big Green Egg (BGE) to impart a bit of smokiness.  So began the experiment….

On Friday, September 25th, Craig came to our house for dinner, BGE pumpkin cooking and spice tasting.  We had Jeff’s beef stew for dinner, decided on a spice combination, rubbed the spices on the raw pumpkin and put it on the BGE to roast.  While the pumpkin was roasting, Jeff and Craig hung out on the back porch sipping beers and swapping stories.  I cleaned up the kitchen from dinner, ran out to Bombay Bazaar for more spices (which we would use the next day during the brewing process) and made up some additional Chinese Five Spice powder (or in our case really 6 spice powder because I like to add a little ginger to mine).

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The next day we met at Craig’s house to begin the brewing process and my small-batch beer education.  Craig did his best to brew with Jeff’s and my assistance (sometimes help from someone else – especially someone who knows nothing about what you’re doing AND asks about 6.2 million questions – isn’t really help at all, but Craig was incredibly gracious), explaining all the steps in the process.

What follows is by no means a complete narrative about brewing.  It is a few of the snippets I managed to record while Craig talked and brewed – so if anything is missing (and I KNOW it is) it’s entirely my fault and not Craig’s lack of knowledge!

Step 1 – MASHING

We began by heating the strike water to 167 degrees F and pouring it into the mash tun (the vessel in which the grains are soaked).  We added the grains (a process called ‘doughing in’) and then they soaked for approximately 90 minutes to extract the sugars.  The temperature of the water is important – too low a temperature extracts more fermentable sugar resulting in a higher alcohol content / too high a temperature extracts less fermentable sugar resulting in a beer with a lower alcohol content with a sweeter taste. Just for reference, we started with approximately 14 1/2 pounds of grains and about 4 1/2 gallons of water.

During the 90 minutes Craig told me a lot about the process and showed me the equipment we would be using, which he and Jeff cleaned in preparation for the upcoming steps.  There was also much talk about beer, rock music and other guy things I didn’t really follow but that seemed to amuse Craig and Jeff very much!

The Rules of Brewing According to Craig

 

“Rule number one: Sanitation is key

Rule number two: If you’re brewing beer you should be drinking beer

Rule number three: Keep detailed notes on each batch”

Some of the equipment and terminology:

  • Throughout the entire brewing process, we took gravity readings – which help you determine the amount of sugar in the brew, which affects the alcohol content of the finished product.  To take the readings we used a portable refractometer.
  • Car Boys – to me this sounds like the male version of diner waitresses who wore roller skates and served you car-side….but not so.  Car boys are fancy glass jugs in which beer is fermented.
  • The sugar liquid that is extracted from the grains during mashing (step 1) is known as WORT.

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Step 2 – VORLAUFING & SPARGING

This process is difficult to explain if you’ve never seen it, but once you have it makes sense.  The liquid is repeatedly siphoned out of the mash tun and then SSSSSLLLLLOOOOOWWWWWLLLLLYYYYY poured (or sprinkled) back over the grains until the liquid finally runs clear.  The process can take a half an hour or more to get right and it’s one of those “you know it when you see it” kind of things.  To simplify – perhaps overly so – the point is to compact the grains in the mash tun so that they create a natural filter through which the liquid is repeatedly passed until it runs clear (no more cloudiness or grains in the siphoned liquid), ultimately extracting the fermentable sugars. If I understood Craig correctly, VORLAUFING is the siphoning and sprinkling, SPARGING is the entire process of filtering the wort.

Craig’s Musings on Beer-Making

 

“Some brewers say, “We don’t make beer. We make sugar-water and yeast makes beer.”  I say, “We’re making beer.””

Vorlaufing & Sparging

Vorlaufing & Sparging

Step 3 – BOILING

According to Craig, most beers are boiled between 60 and 90 minutes.  We boiled ours for 70 minutes – why?  Because Craig said so (BCSS).  Also BCSS a few minutes into the boiling we added our roasted, spiced pumpkin and some hops.

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Step 4 – WHIRLPOOLING

After the wort boiled for 70 minutes, we then used a long spoon to create a whirlpool.  When the wort was moving, we added the spices (at “flame out”) and let it sit for approximately 20 minutes to allow the spices to infuse into the mixture.  According to Craig, this will give the beer not only a good flavor, but a good aroma as well.

Whirlpooling

Whirlpooling

Step 5 – TRANSFERRING TO FERMENTER

Just reading the name of this step makes it sound a bit boring, however it was anything but.  We got to see the THERMINATOR in action – not it’s not an Arnold Schwarzenegger thing.  The therminator is a small piece of equipment through which the wort is passed on its way into the fermenter- the purpose of passing the liquid through the therminator is to quickly bring the temperature of the wort down to 65 degrees F.

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Step 6 – AERATING

This step sounds a lot more impressive than it is.  Boiling the wort forces most of the oxygen out of the solution.Aeration gets introduces oxygen – which is needed for the yeast to properly do its job – back into the wort.  I thought there would be a fancy piece of equipment to perform this part of the process, but it was good old-fashioned muscle – to quote my friend Scott Woolman’s engineer neighbor, “what we need here is brute force.”  Craig and Jeff simply took turns shaking the fermenter.  Although it was unimpressive in the scheme of the brewing process, it did look like a good workout!

Aerating

Aerating

Step 7 – ADDING YEAST

After the wort was aerated, Craig added English ale yeast and we moved the operation from the garage to the basement, where there were previous batches of beer fermenting.

Step 8 – PUTTING ON THE AIR LOCK

The airlock allows carbon dioxide to escape during fermentation and it keeps oxygen, bacteria and wild yeast from getting into the fermenter.

Air Lock

Air Lock

Step 9 – (MY LEAST FAVORITE) WAITING

So we get through all the steps of the process.  The fermenter is transported to the basement.  The airlock is put in place.  And then Craig says, “Now we wait.”  What?  Wait. Wait?  I KNEW there would be waiting involved, but I wasn’t ready for the process to be over so abruptly.  But there is not other choice except to wait 6 weeks to see if our experiment was a success.

Wai ai ai ting is the Hardest Part

Wai ai ai ting is the Hardest Part

So I am waiting…..I wish I could say I am patiently waiting, but that would be a lie.  Sometimes I forget all about our pumpkin beer and then, like a bolt of lightning, a thought of the beer hits me and I get antsy all over again.  I need a conclusion for this post……as the psychologists and psychiatrists and therapists will tell you, I need closure.  Stay tuned……..

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It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like….Fall

Every year I vow to decorate our house for the seasons and every year I am rushing around at the last minute (the 30th of October for Halloween, the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, and the 23rd of December for Christmas) putting up the same old decorations.  But not this year.

This year I was hell-bent on decorating for fall…..here it is only October 4th (Happy Birthday to my sweet friend Denny) and I’ve already got pumpkins on the porch and, as of a few moments ago, a new wreath on the door.  I made a burlap wreath – thanks youtube – and embellished it with some pretty ribbon, a few sprigs of orange berry garland and a cute little chalkboard.

happy fall wreath

The project took me about 30 – 45 minutes to complete (a little more if you factor in the time to drive to Michael’s twice) and was quite easy once I got the hang of it.  I even bought some extra ribbon to festoon the house and/or to use on my Thanksgiving table.

What’s next?  I’m not quite sure……I’ll think it over this evening while I’m eating dinner.  “What’s for dinner?”, you ask.  Coffee-Rubbed Filet of Beef and Brussels Sprouts with Coffee-Molasses Gastrique.  With that in mind, I’ve got to run……it’s 7:01 and I’ve got things to do!

Happy Fall!!!!

Stonewall Kitchen: Butter Chicken Simmering Sauce, etc.

Toward the end of our vacation (about which I have not yet written) Jeff and I went to Stonewall Kitchen in York, Maine.  We had been there previously, but it had been some time so we thought we’d take a quick spin through Stonewall again…

Well, that’s funny….a quick spin….it’s nearly impossible to take a quick spin because there is so much to look at and so much to buy and even some pretty yummy food to eat in their café!

When we arrived at the Stonewall campus, I made a beeline for the cooking school. It’s the cook in me and the cooking instructor in me….I like to see what other instructors are doing and where they’re doing it!  And I surely was not disappointed.  They have a beautiful school.

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After spending a few minutes checking out the classroom, we wandered past the huge windows that allow you to look into part of Stonewall’s bottling operation.  It is pretty mesmerizing to watch all the jars on the conveyor belts whizzing along.  If I squinted my eyes and belted out (in my head of course) “One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, shlemiel, schlemazel, hasenpfeffer incorporated.  We’re gonna do it!” I could pretend I was watching the line at Shotz Brewery.”  But as usual, I digress……

Shotz Brewery

I stole a few moments to relive my childhood and then we moved on to the beautiful retail store via the gorgeous grounds.  After the first lap of the store we decided we’d put together a gift basket for Macy’s gracious caregivers and for my mom and dad who were watering our hanging flower baskets in our absence.

We had a lot of fun selecting things for each of these gift packs and considering what the folks receiving the gifts would enjoy.  Jeff and I each selected items for the gifts and tried to work within a theme for each one – although I have to say that in the end both gifts ended up to be a mishmash of things we thought sounded delicious and that was OK!

We gave our gift items over to the talented young woman who arranged them and made them look beautiful and we began wandering the store in search of a few things for ourselves.  Since we were hungry and the café, which was just a few feet from where we were standing, was soon closing we decided to put the shopping on hold and have a little snack – ok, more like a late lunch.

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I asked about the size of an order of mac and cheese and was told it was small – enough for a taste – which is just what I had hoped.  Jeff ordered a BLTA (BLT with avocado).  When the gal behind the counter delivered the food – which looked amazing – to our table she offered an “apology.”

She explained that since it was nearing the end of the day, the chef made a much larger portion of mac and cheese than would normally be served.  How can you complain about that?  NO APOLOGY NECESSARY! It did take a considerable amount of self-control to eat just a little and save the rest because it was sooooo good.  But it was very rich, which helped.

Jeff’s sandwich was also delicious…very fresh and flavorful.  But after helping me with a bit of mac and cheese he was too full to finish the whole sandwich, so we wrapped part of the sandwich and most of the mac and cheese in To Go containers and put them in the cooler.  They made for a great lunch the next day when we were travelling to Rhode Island!

Here are some miscellaneous snaps of our time at Stonewall Kitchen:

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With full bellies, we resumed our shopping and found a few things we wanted to bring home.  One was hand soap in Stonewall’s Lake House scent. As soon as I smelled the soap I knew I had to bring some home because it reminded me of one of my favorite things about Maine – the smell of balsam.

Another thing we tucked into our bag was a simmering sauce for Butter Chicken.  Butter Chicken (also known as murgh makhani) is an Indian dish of chicken in a mild curry sauce.  I thought it would be good to have this simmering sauce in case we found ourselves in need of a fast, easy dinner.

Tonight was just that night!  Having tested recipes much of the day yesterday and planning to test recipes much of the day tomorrow, I have to admit I didn’t really feel like cooking anything too involved tonight after work.  But we did have chicken in the fridge and some jasmine rice in the pantry so Butter Chicken was the perfect solution to the age-old “what’s for dinner” conundrum.

It was so very easy to make this recipe.  I cut the chicken into cubes, browned it in batches and, while the chicken was browning, I started the rice.  After all the chicken was beautifully golden brown I put it all back into the skillet and added the jar of Butter Chicken Simmering Sauce.  The chicken simmered for 15 minutes, which was perfect timing – when the timer rang the chicken was done, the rice was finished cooking and Jeff was walking through the door!

Butter Chicken Jar Butter Chicken

We sat down to dinner of Butter Chicken over jasmine rice and it was delightful – the chicken was juicy and the tomato-based sauce was thick and flavorful with just enough spice.  I have not previously eaten Butter Chicken so I have no basis for comparison; but based upon my experience with this Stonewall product, I will definitely order this next time I’m in an Indian restaurant and I’ll probably play with the recipe at home too.

There’s just one problem with the Stonewall Kitchen Butter Chicken Simmering Sauce – it’s gone.  I wish we had bought more!  Fortunately, we carry Stonewall products at work and perhaps I can convince Dan to order some of this simmering sauce (and some of the other simmering sauces) for the shop!

Stonewall Kitchen’s Butter Chicken Simmering Sauce + a few minutes prep time + a pan of jasmine rice = a delicious, fast dinner!

The Gift of Blue Apron

Several weeks ago a lovely couple came into the shop.  They were staying in a nearby hotel and were (1) looking to occupy some time and (2) hoping to get a recommendation for a good spot in Carlisle for dinner.

They explained to me that they were on their way to JFK to catch a flight to Paris and that the front desk clerk had recommended Hoss’s for dinner.  So what’s wrong with this picture?  Recommending Hoss’s to someone on their way to a Paris vacation is like recommending StarKist Tuna to someone looking for caviar.

So I asked what kind of foods they liked and what kind of experience they were hoping to have and then I recommended a few different places – none of them chain restaurants.  Now I know, there are those of you out there who will only eat at a chain restaurant when you’re travelling – I know you’re out there, but I certainly don’t understand you.  When I am travelling, I love to eat in one-of-a-kind restaurants that I cannot find at home.  Even when I’m at home I am not likely to eat at a chain restaurant – I like to experience a local chef’s riff on the food I eat and, even better, I love to eat local foods – you know, foods that you can only get or that are just better than “normal” in that place – like Maine blueberries when you’re in Maine, maple syrup when you’re in Vermont, etc.  That’s not to say that blueberries and maple syrup aren’t good in other places, but they’re bound to be spectacular in Maine and Vermont respectively.

Anyhooooooooooooo……

I talked with the couple about many things – the products in the shop, food and being foodies, travel, etc.  We had a pleasant conversation and then they went on their way with the names and addresses of several Carlisle restaurants.

The next day I received a lovely ‘thank you’ email from the wife for the recommendations along with the gift of three Blue Apron meals. If you’ve not heard of Blue Apron, (1) are you living under a rock? and (2) you can visit Blue Apron for additional information.

Prior to receiving this gift, I had heard about Blue Apron from several people and read about it on several blogs and websites.  The first person to tell me about Blue Apron was my orthopaedic doc.  Jeff and I were meeting with him and he told us he learned about it from his son.  He went on to explain how it works and told us about his experience.

Well, kind of like when you’re shopping for a new car and end up seeing that model of car everywhere you look, after hearing about Blue Apron for the first time I started seeing and hearing about it everywhere. And I wanted to try it.

Now, with this generous gift, I was able to try it at no cost – how sweet is that!?! And the timing was terrific – Jeff and I schedule our Blue Apron delivery for the week we returned from vacation, which meant no meal planning and very little grocery shopping when we returned from vacation!!!

The day after we returned home was filled with laundry and errands…and fortunately a visit from the UPS driver (or maybe it was the FedEx driver) with our Blue Apron delivery.

Everything was packed in a cardboard box that housed a cooler.  Each ingredient was individually packaged (in a zip top bag or clamshell or tiny bottle) and we received exactly the quantity needed for the recipe – for example, the recipe for Stir-Fried Ginger-Basil Chicken called for 2 Tbsp. of Ponzu Sauce.  We received exactly 2 Tbsp. in a tiny squeeze bottle neatly labeled and ready for use.

I unpacked all the ingredients, saved the packaging for later use and organized everything by recipe and by refrigerator vs. non-refrigerator items.  That way when it was time to make each recipe I didn’t have to go through all the ingredients again.

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The following are my impressions, in no particular order:

  1. Blue Apron is a great way to ensure that you don’t waste food because you only get what you need for 2 servings (or 4 servings if you specify and pay for 4 servings). I can’t tell you how many times we’ve wanted to make a recipe and had to buy wwwaaayyy more of an ingredient than we needed and ended up not using it before it went bad.
  2. Blue Apron is a great way to try new ingredients without having to buy a large quantity of them that may go unused.  Back to the Ponzu Sauce as an example.  If I wanted to try Ponzu Sauce in a recipe and had to get it at the grocery store, I’d likely have to buy a 10 oz. bottle – even if I only need 2 tablespoons of it.  With Blue Apron I was able to try cooking with Ponzu without buying a whole bottle and possibly never using again.  Some of the items I received from Blue Apron that I hadn’t previously used in my cooking include: Ponzu Sauce, coconut milk powder, and Shishito peppers.
  3. Although there is still some work involved in meal preparation, having the majority of the measuring and all the shopping done for you saves considerable time.  Now, I’ve talked to folks who aren’t as well-versed in the kitchen as Jeff and I are who think some of the recipes are complicated, but I have to say that I think they are mostly easy to follow.
  4. In spite of my comment in number 3, some of the directions could be clearer.  While I don’t think the techniques are difficult, I do think some of the instructions could be clearer.  For example, one of the steps in one of the recipes we made read, “cut the eggplant into 1-inch-thick rounds on an angle.”  Now, had I not had some experience in the kitchen I might have been baffled by this instruction – because when you cut the eggplant on an angle – no matter how you slice it (pun intended) – you will not end up with a round.
  5. Blue Apron can help with portion control and calorie pre-planning.  If portion control and calorie counting are issues for you (as they are for many, including me), Blue Apron just might be your answer  Each recipe tells you how many people it serves and the approximate number of calories per serving.  If you stick to one serving, you could look at the calorie count in advance and plan your other meals accordingly so as not to exceed a particular daily calorie intake.
  6. This next statement has to be couched because it will not be true for everyone when you factor in other things.  I find Blue Apron to be expensive when you calculate the cost per meal (of course, my trial was free so I’m certainly not complaining).  I can feed two people a nutritious meal for less than $20 and you probably can too.  However, if you’re not at the grocery store as much as I am and you have to make a special trip and you factor in the cost of your time, then you may not find it expensive at all.  And/or, if you hate meal planning or just don’t take the time to do it until 5 minutes before dinner and you end up eating the same thing(s) over and over again, you may think the expense is worth it.  Again – saying Blue Apron is expensive is not necessarily a fair statement when you consider other factors.  For me, it is.
  7. This is another impression that other people may not share; however I found it difficult to fit all three meals into a week because I also test recipes for future classes several nights of the week.  I know it’s a good problem to have, but I had to really be purposeful about cooking my Blue Apron meals before the perishables perished.
  8. Sometimes you get things you don’t like. While you can specify certain dietary restrictions, you cannot control all the ingredients you receive.  For example, one of the recipes Jeff and I made was Seared Salmon & Panzanella, which included cucumbers.  While neither of us is what I would consider a picky eater, we don’t particularly care for cucumbers…so I left them out.  It would have been nice to have something different in the salad, but without a trip to the store (or to the garden) a replacement wasn’t readily available.  Also, then I was left with a cucumber that I didn’t want to waste and for which I had to find a home.
  9. Each dish comes with an 8.5″ x 11″ “recipe card” with photos, instructions, nutritional information, special ingredient info, etc.  This is a very nice feature.  Particularly in that it allows you to recreate those recipes you really enjoy!
  10. This may sound nitpicky, but I couldn’t find an option on their website for odd-numbered families.  Having spent the last 20+ years cooking for two the majority of the time, worrying about an odd-number of people in the family isn’t an issue for me; but it is for some.  You’d end up spending more money than you had to and having leftovers or eating more than one serving.  For many this wouldn’t even be a blip on their radar, but I know there are those of you out there who hate leftovers!
  11. Although it didn’t take me long to separate the ingredients into piles by meal, it would have been nice if they had been grouped in separate bags within the larger package so that I didn’t have to spend the time separating ingredients. The “knick knacks” (or smaller ingredients) were separated by recipe, but the fresh veggies and meats were not.

The following are some pics of Jeff and I putting together one of the meals:

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While I am so grateful for the opportunity to try Blue Apron and the experience was surely a good one, in the end we decided that it’s just not the right fit for us in this season of our lives.  However, I can definitely see where it would be a great option for other people – people who don’t like to cook or plan meals, people with schedules that don’t have them at the grocery store and/or in the kitchen as much as my schedule does, people just learning to cook, etc.  My sister and her husband use and love Blue Apron – it fits well into their lifestyle. I do think Blue Apron would make a nice gift – particularly for folks in an especially busy season of life.

Blue Apron

So, a special thanks to the travelling-to-France-and-staying-overnight-in-Carlisle couple (you know who you are) for this generous gift.  I am grateful for the opportunity to try Blue Apron and will definitely keep an eye on their website from time to time to see what changes they are making that would make them a better fit for us. And who knows what kinds of changes may be coming down the pike in our lives that may make Blue Apron a good fit – what’s that old saying”? If you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans!”

Have you tried Blue Apron?  What were your experiences and impressions?

 

 

Vacation Part 3: Kayaking & Camping

So much to write, so little time……

I put up a mini post about the kayaking and camping trip while we were still on vacation, but I wanted to give you more details….so here goes!!!

We started our kayaking adventure at the LL Bean Outdoor Discovery School at 8:00 am on our 22nd wedding anniversary.  My idea of celebrating does not include getting up early, but for kayaking I made an exception!!!

Our Arrival

Our Arrival

Although we had no idea what to expect, we were so excited to finally be there and so ready to set out on this journey.  We met up with our guides and our group in a conference room in the Outdoor Discovery School.  The school itself looks like a lodge and is quite welcoming so being in their conference room was nothing like being in one at work!

LL Bean Outdoor Discovery School

LL Bean Outdoor Discovery School

Our guides, Kevin and Bob, were so organized and put us all at ease.  There were 10 people in our group, including Jeff and me.  There was one other couple, two sisters and the rest were singles – a great mix.  Luckily our group had an even number of people because we learned we would be travelling by tandem kayak.

As soon as I heard the words “tandem kayak” I broke out in a sweat.  Shortly after those words were uttered, we were asked to introduce ourselves, sharing our name, what we hoped to get out of the weekend and if we’d ever kayaked before.  When it was my turn, I said something like:

“Hi.  My name is Jan.  I’ve been kayaking for about 12 years and I hope to still be married at the end of the trip.”

Of course, that got everyone’s attention and I went on to explain that 12 years ago, when Jeff and I first began kayaking, we rented a tandem kayak.  We got it into the water, situated ourselves and began paddling.  We then proceeded to spend three hours going in a circle and cursing at one another.  That day we vowed – for the health and longevity of our marriage – to never get in a tandem kayak together again!!!!  Oh, but God has an amazing sense of humor!!!

When it was Jeff’s turn to introduce himself, he told everyone that we were celebrating our 22nd anniversary and reinforced what I had shared by saying that we’d made it this far because we had honored our promise to never again get in a tandem kayak!

Our guides were not swayed by the idea that our marriage was in jeopardy.  They still moved us forward with the tandem kayak.

Bob & Kevin - Orientation

Bob & Kevin – Orientation

The next bomb they dropped on us was that each person would have two dry-bags in which to carry their belongings for the entire trip.  If it didn’t fit in the dry-bag, it stayed in the car.  Seriously?  I thought, “I cannot pack for three days and two nights in two tiny bags – it just cannot be done!”  After they dropped the bomb, they passed out the bags and sent us to our cars to rethink what we needed to take with us.  One salvation was that if we had wine or beer to bring it would be taken by boat (not our kayaks) to the island on which we would be camping. The wine and/or beer would not have to occupy any precious real estate in our dry-bags.  That made things slightly better, but I was still worried about what I would have to leave behind.

In the end, it seems I worried for nothing.  I was able to fit my toothbrush and other toiletries (a few – not the usual makeup, essential oils, hair products, etc.), pajamas, clothes for 3 days of kayaking, clothes for at the camp site, a pair of camp shoes, and a raincoat into the two dry-bags with a little room for air!

Having a little extra time, we made a quick run to the closest grocery store for a bottle of wine and some beer.  When we got back from that run, we packed our lunch for day 1 from the array of lunch items LL Bean provided.  We each made a sandwich and packed some other snack goodies.  We filled our water bottles, slathered ourselves with sunscreen, and headed downstairs where we were given our paddles and life jackets.

Then we had a few minutes of paddling instruction and stretching and we were headed for the dock by about 10:00 am.  We were assigned boats, stowed our gear, received some instruction and were launched by 10:30.  Then the fun began.

The day was a windy one so there were waves on the bay that made for challenging paddling in some spots, but I was loving being on the water with the salty wind in my face and the sun on my shoulders.

What I wasn’t exactly loving was sharing a boat.  You see, for 12 years I’ve been paddling solo.  That means I know exactly which way my boat is going to go when I make a stroke with my paddle.  I know how to turn, how to stop and how to adjust course for myself.  But God clearly had other plans for me.

Throughout the weekend He revealed to me that in 12 years I’d learned a lot about kayaking, but I hadn’t learned squat about cooperation!!!!  A lesson, really?  I wanted to have a relaxing weekend.  But God knows that what I need is infinitely more important than what I want.  So He continued to whisper to me throughout the trip. Each time I got frustrated because we weren’t going the way I wanted to go, He reminded me that kayaking is like marriage.  He showed me through paddling that without communication we can veer quickly and far off course.  He showed me that being a part of a team – a real team that is working together, not working at cross-purposes – would build a stronger, healthier marriage.  He reminded me that I cannot fix everything by myself – that I had to rely on Jeff to steer us, even when I didn’t want to submit to Jeff’s way. Oh, He is an awesome God!

Now I don’t know if I was the only one of the group having these revelations.  And truthfully it doesn’t matter.  I’m glad I was having them.  Clearly I needed and still need them.  And the trip was the perfect time to hear from God because I wasn’t so distracted by a million things – I was really listening!

One of the very best parts of the trip for me was having no access to technology. Oh, I know we say we’re going to unplug – we go on Facebook fasts – but we still have television and kindles and cell phones,etc.  On this trip I had no phone (at least while we were paddling – when we were at camp I turned my phone on once a day to snap some pictures), no television, no radio, nothing electronic to mess with my reception.  There were no distractions between God and me. And what a blessing that was because I was able and willing to simply listen!

On the first day we stopped for lunch around noon and then paddled for about 3 more hours.  We arrived at “our island” around 3:30, set up our tents and other gear, chatted with our group members, were given a lesson on the “bathroom” and were treated to a fantastic dinner.

Setting Up the Tent

Setting Up the Tent

Home Sweet Homeish

Home Sweet Homeish

Around Our Tent

Around Our Tent

Out Our Tent Window

Out Our Tent Window

The Kitchen

The Kitchen

The Kitchen

The Kitchen

The menu – lobster or steak, fresh corn on the cob and salad.  We were all starving and it seemed like the meal went so quickly, but not without many ooh’s and ahh’s and mmm’s.  After dinner, several of the group members worked together to do the dishes camping style – in three buckets of boiled water – one with soap, one to rinse and one with bleach for a final rinse.  By the time the dishes were all done and put away dusk was beginning to settle over our little island. Bob invited us all to the beach (a small sandy area that grew or shrank depending on the tide) for brownies that he had baked in a cast-iron Dutch oven.  And not only did he have brownies, but he also had whipped cream.  I’ll tell you, LL Bean doesn’t miss anything (except bathrooms with running water)!!!!

Sunset Night 1

Sunset Night 1

We all turned in early with the promise that we would have a leisurely breakfast before setting out for another wonderful day on the water.  Unfortunately, turning in early did not mean I slept.  Although it wasn’t hot out, it was moist and I’m an air conditioning girl all the way.  Not only that, but Jeff was sleeping so soundly that he was snoring – snoring so much, in fact, that I was glad we had chosen to set our tent up on the opposite side of the island from the majority of our group.  Needless to say I was a little cranky in the morning.

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But, the coffee flowed freely and that helped make up for my lack of sleep.  Kevin made pancakes and Bob made sausages, fresh fruit was served and soon we were cleaning up the dishes from breakfast and packing our lunches for another day of adventuring.  We were instructed to use the “bathroom” one last time and to pack up what we needed for a day on the water.  Next thing we knew we were in our boats again and I was feeling incredibly free.  No schedule, no to-do list, no agenda…..ahhhhhhh!  We paddled and enjoyed the scenery, including some really cute seals (which Kevin described as resembling yellow labs without ears – and he was right) in the water!  We paddled for a few hours and then stopped for lunch, where we stretched our legs, sunned ourselves on the rocks and filled our bellies so that we’d be ready for several more hours of paddling.

If you’ve never been kayaking, you should give it a try.  It’s a great way to see the sights.  It’s different from being on a boat because you are really, really close to the water level – so you have a unique vantage point to take in what is around you.  And you can get into small spaces that many boats cannot go.

Kevin and Bob enhanced the trip with their knowledge of Casco Bay, its islands and the native wildlife.  They shared many interesting factoids with us and kept the group together and moving forward – no easy job, I assure you.  Our group had new paddlers and veteran paddlers, young folks and older folks, in-shape folks and not-so-in-shape folks.  It had rule-followers and those of us (myself included) who view rules as arbitrary guidelines that apply to other people.  But, everyone was respectful of one another and of our guides and we all did our best to overcome our challenges to stay together as a loose unit.

Several hours later we returned to camp for some R&R.  After a sleepless night, I was ready for the first R and was grateful that we had some free time before dinner – I used mine to change out of my salty clothes, into some clean camp clothes and to have a nap.  I didn’t sleep long, but I sure slept hard.  Then Jeff and I took a little walk around Gosling Island  (it’s a little island).  And by the time dinner rolled around I was refreshed and hungry.

Dinner on night two was chicken fajitas with all the fixin’s.  There’s something about spending time on the water that makes everything taste great – and it certainly didn’t hurt that Bob and Kevin have some mad skills when it comes to camp cooking.  Dinner was followed by dish duty and conversation with our fellow campers.  Then we had our evening treat – gingerbread from the cast-iron Dutch oven and I should tell you that I am a sucker for gingerbread.  Although I don’t have it often, when I do I think of fall and chilly weather and sweatshirts.  From now on I’ll also think of kayaking and beautiful sunsets!!!

Red Sunset Over Our Little Beach

Red Sunset Over Our Little Beach

Our Little Beach

Our Little Beach

Sailboats at Sunset

Sailboats at Sunset

Reading

Reading

After we had our treat I browsed through the “library” – a plastic tote containing a few books – and picked out a book called Into the Wild. Unfortunately I got sucked into the book but didn’t have enough time to finish it before the end of the trip so now it’s on my library list!!!

Knowing that morning was coming more quickly than I would like, I turned off my headlamp, put in my earplugs (thankfully I remembered they were packed in the dry-bag) and actually slept!!!!  This may fall under the heading of Too Much Information, but getting up in the middle of the night for a bathroom break is a whole new thing when you do it in the woods with no actual bathroom!!!! Enough said!

Morning 3 = made to order omelets! I was the last one up, but thankfully there was still coffee!!!  Breakfast was delish and not only fortified us for a day on the water, but also for breaking down camp.  Whoever designs the bags that sleeping bags and sleeping pads and tents come in has a great sense of humor – and apparently some high level degrees in engineering.  I had been worried about setting the tent up, but that turned out to be a breeze.  What I should have been worried about was getting it back into the bag.  If this turns out to be something we do again, I’ll have to take a course in re-packaging – which incidentally I could use at work too for getting small appliances back into their original boxes!!!!

With camp tidied up, all our belongings and our lunches packed, and our bellies full we headed out for the last day of kayaking.  I have to tell you I was a little sad.  I was looking forward to the day on the water but I didn’t want the trip to end.  Oh yes, I really wanted a shower!  And yes, I was soooo looking forward to indoor plumbing.  But I wanted to spend more time on the bay exploring the islands and seeing the sights.

We enjoyed our last day immensely.  And, as if by magic, Jeff and I seemed to be really in sync when it came to paddling – apparently we could conquer the tandem kayak.  If Glenda the Good Witch had been there, she’d have told us “you’ve always had the power.”

As we paddled I thought about the lessons I’d learned on the journey.  God had spoken to me about marriage and cooperation and submission.  Good lessons to be sure.  I also thought about how the first day I was paddling so hard – trying to get the tandem boat to do what I wanted it to – that my shoulders were sore after about the first 30 minutes.  I was reminded of a weekend hiking /camping trip I’d taken several years ago on the Appalachian Trail when I hiked so hard for the first 30 minutes that I got dizzy and had to sit down, then when I started up again I had to continue to remind myself that I didn’t have to do the whole hike in one step.  The third day of kayaking I was reminded that I didn’t have to cross the entire bay with one stroke. I have a tendency to take on challenges with this mindset – finish the whole thing immediately, do it all NOW….but most of the fun is in the journey so I need to enjoy sitting back and seeing the sights, I need to pace myself so that I have stamina to finish and I need to set smaller, more realistic goals so that I don’t burn out before the end of the adventure!

No matter how badly we wanted to shower, we were so sorry for our trip to end.  When we arrived back at LL Bean, we unpacked our boats, cared for our equipment, made a beeline for the indoor plumbing, said our goodbyes and hit the road.  Parting IS such sweet sorrow!

This past week I was asked, “what was the highlight of your summer?”  Far and away, the 3-day, 2-night kayak/camping trip on the Casco Bay through LL Bean’s Outdoor Discovery School was the highlight of my summer!!!

What was the highlight of yours?

(Just a note – Jeff and I each used our cell phones to take pictures and we shared our little camera, so I cannot tell you with any certainty who took which pictures!!!!)

Some snaps of the trip:

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Vacation Part 2

I’ll give you a minute to catch up on Part 1 if you need it………….OK, so we arrived in Connecticut via the Cross Sound Ferry , found our car below deck, waited our turn to disembark and set out on the highway for Maine!!!!!

It was so nice to take the ferry…..we could stretch our legs, soak up some sunshine, breathe in the salt air, feel the wind in our faces, and enjoy one another’s company.  The weather was beautiful so we spent the majority of the 80-minute ride on the top deck taking in the sights.  I realized as we rode that taking the ferry levels the playing field of travelers…..how so, you ask?  Well, there’s no first class on the ferry.  Everyone travels at the same speed; everyone’s vehicle, if they brought one, is below deck so there’s no posturing; you all have access to the same concessions with no reservations; and everyone arrives at the same time!  It’s kind of nice.

In addition to enjoying the scenery, I enjoyed people-watching and listening to snip-its of the conversations of other travelers.  There were people who were obviously commuting for work, other vacationers, folks out for a day of fun with their grand kids, a group of folks travelling by motorcycle who were obviously enjoying the time for face-to-face conversation and the common denominator was the everyone looked pretty darn relaxed.  I wish I could travel by ferry more often!

While enjoying the ride, I also had time to slow down and think – without worrying if we were going to miss our next turn or find the right route.  For a while I was mesmerized by the wake behind the boat and realized that memories are like that wake.  When events, good or bad, are directly behind you they’re still obvious – you can almost see them like the distinct pattern in the water the boat has made.  But as time passes and you get further away from the event(s), the edges blur a little – you can still see them in your mind, but the edges become fuzzier and they begin to blur into other past events.  And when you are far enough away, you can no longer see them.  You know you were once there, but the evidence is gone.  I got to thinking how handy that is – especially when the events are not-so-pleasant ones; but the sad thing is it happens with the happiest of memories too.  You know you were there but you can no longer remember all the details and you can no longer see the evidence of them……but in the end, I concluded that it all balances out and that although all memories, happy or sad, fade it doesn’t change the fact that we were there and that the wake of the best memories stays with us, even if we can no longer see it!

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Anyhooo……..not surprisingly, I digress!

Back to the trip….at some point, after driving for a while through Connecticut, I needed a rest stop and we got off the highway.  We drove for a little bit and passed a DSW – you know, the shoe store.  I’m sure it seems strange that I mention a shoe store in the midst of this post; but just that morning before we left the hotel to catch the ferry, Jeff had to say a sad goodbye to his favorite flip flops.  He reluctantly left them in the trash can as we rolled our suitcases out the hotel room door.  Those flip flops had served him well for 3 or 4 years and he was sad not to have them for the duration of trip.  So after we had our potty break, I suggested we go into DSW to look for some replacement flip-flops.  I could only imagine how badly his feet needed to be liberated from the Vans he wore.

The End of the Flip Flops

On our way through the sliding doors into DSW, Jeff looked a bit forelorn, like Eeyore…..but amazingly he found exactly the same brand and style of flip-flops that he’d discarded just hours before!!!  He IS Even Steven! Let me tell you, this NEVER happens to me.  And I’m shocked that after 3 or 4 years he was able to find an exact replacement.  But on the way out the door, Eeyore was gone and there was a big smile on Jeff’s face!  Mission accomplished.

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Bladders empty and feet free, we got back on the road determined to make no more stops until we reached the state of Maine.  We were both expectantly awaiting our arrival at the next destination – Red’s Eats in Wiscasset. On our last trip to Maine – for our 10th anniversary back in 2003 – we ate at Red’s on the last day and we vowed that we would return!  And although it took 12 years, we were headed there next!  Our bellies were getting empty and our our excitement was mounting.  You see, Red’s Eats makes THE BEST lobster rolls ever!!!!  I can be a stubborn girl at times, but often I come around to someone else’s way of thinking with enough persuasion.  On this matter you can debate me all you want , but if you think anyone makes a better lobster roll than Red’s Eats you are wrong!  Period.  Case closed.  No more to be said.

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OK, maybe a little more to be said about Red’s.  The line is usually long and Day 4 of our trip was no exception.  Below are some photos and tweets from my time in the line!

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“Words cannot express how flippin’ excited I am right now….”

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“Quivering with excitement….”

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“Feeling sorry for the people eating across the street….”

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“Considering hurting the people in front of us in line….I’m sure they’re perfectly nice people, but they’re standing between me and my lobster roll….”

We waited patiently….or not so patiently….for our turn.  And when we were just a few people from the front of the line, I went around back to get us a table on the deck.  As I waited for Jeff to arrive with our food, I drooled a little while looking at what other people were eating.  Fried clams, lobster rolls – some with melted butter and some with mayo, fish and chips, crab cakes….the list is endless.  While I peeked around not-so-subtly at other people’s food, it began to drizzle.  But there are umbrellas over the tables so I wasn’t worried.  Jeff came around the corner and asked if I wanted an umbrella from the car, which was parked just up the hill from Red’s. I said, “sure,” and was glad for that decision when the rain picked up a bit.  Just as Jeff arrived with the umbrella, our number was called and the sky opened up and started to dump rain on Wiscasset and on us.  He grabbed our food (which they had lovingly packed in to-go containers even though we had indicated we would eat out back) and we ran for the car.

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We were soaked, but thrilled as we ate.  We shared an order of fried clams and we each got a lobster roll.  O…….M…….G…….we were in heaven.  The fried clams were huge and juicy and sweet……mmm mmm mmm.  But the lobster rolls were the stars of the show.  Each sandwich contains more than one whole lobster that has been cooked with precision and chilled until it is perfection on a buttery, toasted bun.  Then, as if the lobster needs anything more, the lobster rolls are served with either drawn butter or mayo – we got one of each and shared.  There wasn’t much conversation going on in the car as we ate, but there were a few mmm’s and ah’s and yeah’s – what Jeff and his buddies would call “audible eating!”

When we finished our amazing lunch/dinner (linner?), we wiped off our hands and arms, wiped as much of the butter off the center console of the car as possible and pointed the car in the direction of Portland, which would be our home-away-from-home for the next two nights.  We made one quick stop to buy some tiny, flavorful Maine blueberries for our breakfast the next morning and arrived in Portland in no time.

We checked into the hotel and were pleasantly surprised to be upgraded to a suite.  The room was modern and spacious and clean and we were sure it would be a fine home for a few days!  After a bit of unpacking, we decided to stroll around Portland for a while to work off some of the food we had eaten.  After a bit of strolling, we would up at The Thirsty Pig for some beers and WiFi.  I spent some time making notes about the first few days of our trip and downloading pics off my camera while Jeff surfed the web.  It was a mellow end to a mellow day.

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Day 5 – I awoke in our spacious room to the sound of Jeff coming through the door – he went and picked up a Starbucks’ coffee for me….the man knows the way to my heart.  I brushed my teeth, scrounged up some clothes, threw on a hat and we left to explore Portland….it was a No-Makeup Monday, only it was Thursday! We had a great time being out of the car, wandering through shops, gazing out at the water and enjoying our time alone together.  Of course, we had to make a quick stop at Holy Donut to try the donuts Jeff had read about.  Jeff ordered a Cheddar Bacon Donut – yes, you read that right – and I ordered a Sweet Potato Ginger donut, which I ended up sharing with Jeff.  It was delish, but I knew good things were coming later in the day so I didn’t want to eat a whole donut.

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After a few hours, we were a little parched so we stopped at Sebago Brewing Company where Jeff ordered a beer sampler and I ordered a cucumber cooler from the non-alcoholic beverage menu.  The bartender – a smart gal – told me the cucumber cooler is great with a shot of Hendrick’s gin in it.  She explained that Hendrick’s is infused with a bit of rose and cucumber and therefore was a nice complement to the drink.  Well heck, I was on vacation, so how could I refuse?  She was not wrong…..it was delicious.

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After re-hydrating, we wandered the town some more and then began to think about dinner.  We knew we had to wake up early for our kayaking trip the next morning and we didn’t want to be out too late. So we walked back to the hotel where we noshed on some snacks from our cooler, read for a little while, showered and got dressed for dinner.  We strolled through town to The Top of the East (in the Westin Hotel) for a cocktail. Our timing was perfect – the sun was just beginning to set and the view was incredible.  It was a great place to toast 22 years of marriage, which we would be celebrating the next day.  We lingered over our drinks and then decided to find a spot for dinner.

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Not knowing what we’d be in the mood to eat, we didn’t make a reservation, which made finding a spot for dinner a bit challenging.  But we persevered!  We tried a few of our top choices including Fore Street, Eventide, and Honey Paw – all of which had very long waiting lists.  Knowing we needed to be up with the sun, we opted for The East Ender and were not disappointed.  Jeff ordered a cold-smoked burger which was sensational and I order soup and an appetizer.  The soup was not only delicious, it was also a work of art!  It was Chilled Spring Pea Soup with Parmesan & Pickled Red Onion.  Bright green with spots of pickled onion and a floating cloud of parmesan foam – stunning!  I should have known better than to order the appetizer I chose – Maine Mussels with Ginger & Anise.  While it was good, it wasn’t great and I only ordered it because what I really wanted to try was Fore Street’s Wood Oven Roasted Maine Mussels with Garlic Almond Butter. A student in one of my recent classes had recommended Fore Street to me and specifically had recommended the mussels.  I should have held out, which is not to say that we didn’t enjoy our meal at The East Ender.

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As we made our way back to the hotel, we were tired – both from a long day of walking in the sea air, from the cocktails we drank and from our full bellies.   So we hit the hay and dreamed of being in our kayaks on the bay……