vrai-lean-uh

Cooking, eating, making sweeping pronouncements

Posts tagged portland maine

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The Portland Press Herald’s New Restaurant Reviewer

From John Golden’s first article:

"I’m partial to good solid cooking. New England fare suits me fine, and diner food, too, if it’s done well. I also love Southern fare, classic French, Italian, Mediterranean, Latin and Asian."

"What’s new about the American dining scene is that we finally have a native cuisine."

"Instead, today it’s all about American bistro cooking. It’s a broad term, with regional differences, but it pretty much defines every new restaurant, other than ethnic, that strives to be the next American bistro wunderkind.”

"Added to the mix is ‘fusion,’ where the chef humorously or seriously fusses with elements of other cuisines. It can be very appealing."

Filed under white people of america lets get it together restaurants portland maine

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Portland Museum of Art

For such a tiny city tucked way up in the far corner of the country, one good shake away from bouncing up over the border into Canada or off the edge into the ocean, Portland, Maine has a lot going for it. I realized that anew this weekend at the Portland Museum of Art.

It’s not a huge museum, and sometimes I don’t like their exhibits. For the most part, though, they have interesting shows that are regionally appropriate without being all lobsters-and-Wyeth. Contemporary art can be the Achilles’ heel of regional art museums, but the PMA does pretty well.

The fact that it’s a nice museum wasn’t really a surprise. The surprising thing was how easy it was to visit with a 9-month old. It’s really family-friendly, we had a lovely time.

We mostly just saw their Biennial: Piece Work exhibit. It’s a juried show with the goal of “explor[ing] one very strong, deep thread of contemporary practice that has relevance both regionally and nationally.” The artists either live in Maine for some portion of the year or their work is otherwise tied to the state. It is a statement to the show and probably some unpleasant personal prejudices of mine that it’s so, so much better and more interesting than I would ever expect from “Maine contemporary art.”

It’s hard for me to imagine an age when kids couldn’t get something from the exhibit, particularly with a bit of support. The first room, for instance, has a big, visually arresting landscape sculpture made from black paper. It’s beautiful and weird like some nightmarish rural British craft project or a particularly dark children’s book come to life. Bear and I spent some time looking at the grass and flowers. A few rooms later we ran across a sweater woven from love letters and a set of drawings based on the time it takes to travel from one place to another. You don’t have to have a background in art history to wonder about the coziness of that particular sweater, or what it might feel like to cut up love letters someone had sent you. The exhibit labels are clear and helpful in making sense of the works without being intrusive or overbearing.

When we decided to check out the McLellan house, a Federal-era mansion tacked on to the back of the Museum, we discovered a family space designed by one of the Piece Work artists. Bear was more into one of the small-scale chairs than the interactives, but he got to crawl around and burn off a bit of energy.

Beyond the exhibit spaces, the visitor services are really nice, and when you go someplace with a baby or small child, the visitor services can make or break your experience. The cafe is run by Aurora Provisions and has good food in a pretty lower-level dining space (with two high chairs). The coat check is free and easy to navigate. The gift shop is excellent (I bought a calendar and a wonderful board book for Bear). The staff were across-the-board helpful and welcoming. The only demerit is for the men’s room bathroom that doesn’t have a changing table (the women’s room has one), but I’m willing to overlook it.

If you haven’t been lately, it’s worth checking out.

Filed under Portland Maine Portland Museum of Art

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Bear and I Get an Iced Coffee

It is 10:30 am, we have been awake for five hours (minus one one-hour nap for Bear), and my big plan to just have an iced tea has failed me in a monumental way.

So we go to Tandem Coffee Roasters to get my new favorite thing, a malt iced coffee, and give Dave some time to sit quietly and pretend like he didn’t wake up at 5:30 am.

This is what getting an iced coffee is like for me these days:

I carry Bear out to the car, along with the baby carrier and my purse and probably five other things and strap him in. We discover that both Sophie and Monkey are already in the car, which means it’s going to be a good ride.

We play Dolly Parton and Kenny Roger’s Islands in the Stream on repeat because that’s the way I roll when Dave isn’t there to keep things in line.

Tandem is in a weird quasi-industrial area and I’m never sure what the parking situation is, so I always feel like I’m leaving my car maybe in a parking spot and maybe just in the middle of someone’s property. I abandon my car next to Tandem in something that looks parking spot-ish. I take Bear out of his car seat, Monkey falls on the ground. I strap Bear in to the baby carrier. You haven’t lived until you’ve strapped a sweaty 20-pound baby to your chest in 85 degree heat with 90 percent humidity. I do a deep squat with the 20 pound baby to retrieve Monkey from the asphalt and head in to Tandem. 

Tandem is a vision of warm industrial-minimalist design. It looks like it was designed expressly for the purpose of looking lovely in photos for one’s blog, and I would have taken a photo for my blog except that my phone camera has decided to give up the ghost after a whole two months of active duty. There’s exposed brick, plain white walls bisected by a thin wood counter, gleaming metal and glass equipment, studio stools, a collection of old records and a record player, a discrete stack of pastries or donuts under a glass cloche, and I want to say polished concrete floors but I can’t be sure. It’s a polished concrete floors kind of place. Happily, I wore my black and white tie-dye plaid muumuu tunic (yes) and Bear was in a black baby carrier so we fit in well.

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Photo from Tandem’s website.

Bear spends his time as we wait for my coffee giving one of the other patrons a dead-eyed stare as the patron smiles and makes funny faces in an effort to be pleasant. Bear has none of it. Bear decides to chew the strap of the baby carrier.

I get my malt iced coffee, which is spectacular, and my Holy Donut chocolate sea salt donut, which is also spectacular, and have a minute of quietly enjoying life in a nicely air conditioned and attractive coffee shop with my giant baby strapped to me.

Bear tries to reach for my iced coffee and I think he’s trying to reach for the cup because he has enjoyed that in the past so I angle the bottom toward him so he can grab it. It becomes clear that he wants the top of the cup and out-maneuvers me to grab the paper straw and stuff it into his mouth. I’m going to pause here to discuss the paper straw. It is lovely and I can only imagine extraordinarily expensive and you can ALMOST forgive the way they melt and get gross in liquid (like, say, an iced coffee, or your mouth) because they are so photogenic. So Bear grabs that thing and shoves it into his mouth and the straw just gives up. Totally and completely. I unclench Bear’s fist and reveal a crumpled shadow of a straw.

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This is why we can’t have nice things.

So I take my iced coffee, and my donut, and my crumpled straw and we get back in the car. I strap Bear in to his carseat. I hand him Monkey, which he proceeds to shove deep into his mouth. We drive home singing Islands in the Stream. We’re halfway home when I remember that Monkey fell on the ground. And then Bear starts fussing and we stop Islands and sing The Ants Go Marching til we get home.

Filed under parenting iced coffee Portland Maine

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(I first drafted this months ago, and then fell victim to the Great Baby Sickness of April 2013 and kind of forgot about it. Until my sister-in-law asked for the granola recipe. And then we all got the stomach flu. But here it is finally!)

I feel like other people are writing about things like nutella cupcakes and mango parfaits and cake pops with bacon and I’m constantly trying to sell you guys on things like ham hock soup and granola bars. Good thing I’m not trying to blog my way to fame and fortune. At the very least you can feel confident that this is a safe space free from tiny-cakes-in-twee-shapes.

So. Granola bars.

How long did I go to Standard Baking Co. before I bought one of their granola bars? Years. In fact, I did not buy that first granola bar, Dave did. And then my life changed. Put down the financiers, forget the brownies, granola bars man.

They are so good: dense and chewy, sweet without being overwhelming, rich, studded with nuts and seeds, and just a tiny bit chocolatey. They, like macarons and lebkuchen and oysters, are one of the foods that I always want more of. Which made my granola bar habit both inconvenient and sort of expensive.

Which led to the purchase of the Standard Baking Co. cookbook* for the sole purpose of making the granola bars, and then the making of the granola bars and then eating huge quantities of granola bars. They are gone now and I’m a little heartbroken.

Here’s the deal with the recipe. It’s not hard in terms of being complicated. It is hard in terms of sheer quantities of ingredients and physical muscle required. It would probably be leaps and bounds easier if you had an enormous KitchenAid mixer. As it was, I had to mix it in my stockpot because I had no mixing bowls big enough and my arm hurt a lot at the end of it.** That said, I’m not sure how easy it would be to halve the recipe since it fits into a rimmed baking sheet and you have to press it all down with a rolling pin, which would be hard in a smaller pan.

I also just noticed that they’re called “fruit and nut granola bars.” I think putting “fruit” in the title is a bit of a reach when the only fruit is dried cranberries. Let’s just be honest. They’re Nut Granola Bars. 

Fruit and Nut Granola Bars

Posted with permission from the folks at Standard. Thank you! My notes are below in italics.

  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
  • 2 cups packed light brown sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups peanut butter, natural salted (I used the processed peanut butter I had kicking around)
  • 1 cup light corn syrup
  • 2 tablespoons vanilla extract
  • 7 cups rolled (not instant) oats
  • One 12-ounce package small chocolate chips (I have used regular-sized chocolate chips and small chocolate chunks, and both were fine)
  • 1 1/2 cups dried cranberries
  • 1 cup hulled sunflower seeds
  • 1/2 cup pumpkin seeds, toasted***
  • 1/2 cup sesame seeds
  • 1/2 cup chopped pecans, toasted***

1. Melt the butter over low heat in a small saucepan (or very carefully in the microwave) and set it aside to cool (it should cool completely before using or it will melt the chocolate chips).

2. Preheat the oven to 375˚. Prepare a rimmed 13 x 18-inch baking sheet by lining it with parchment paper and spraying the sides with nonstick cooking spray. (I don’t have nonstick cooking spray so I think I just proceeded with the parchment.)

3. In a large bowl, combine the brown sugar, peanut butter, corn syrup, and vanilla.

4. In another large bowl (a super large bowl), combine the oats, chocolate, cranberries, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, and pecans.

5. Add half of the dry ingredients and half of the melted butter to the peanut butter mixture. Mix and knead with your hands to combine.

6. Add the remaining dry ingredients and the rest of the butter and mix until all of the ingredients are thoroughly incorporated.

7. Spread the mixture out onto the prepared baking sheet and press it down to fill the pan. Cover the mixture with another sheet of parchment paper and use a rolling pin to make sure it is pressed firmly to a uniform thickness. (Really press down as hard as you can.)

8. Bake for 10 to 11 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through the baking time. The edges will be a light golden brown. The mixture will look under-baked in the center, but will set up after cooling.

9. Transfer the pan to a wire rack and let it cool for several hours before cutting.

10. To cut, run a knife around the outside edge to loosen it from the pan over onto a cutting board. Using a very sharp knife, cut into any size you like. A ruler and a small paring knife work well to score the top of the granola into strips. Use a large sharp knife to cut straight down through the bars on the score marks.

* That’s an Amazon link, but if you live in Portland you should pick up the book at Standard (they’re on Commercial St. across from the ferry) or at Longfellow books.

** That’s probably good for me, frankly, given that the last time I worked out I was nine months pregnant, and I now have a 16+ pound baby. (He’s 20 pounds now.)

*** To toast the pumpkin seeds and pecans, spread them out onto a baking sheet and bake them at 350 for 5 - 10 minutes. Watch them really carefully to make sure they don’t burn (I made a batch of “smoky” granola bars because I wasn’t as careful as I should have been).

Filed under breakfast Granola Bars! I want to eat this all the time Portland Maine

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Maine Public Broadcasting Network and Sandwiches

Surprising no one, I listen to a lot of public radio.

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In my quest to be a responsible adult, I also donate to MPBN, because I listen to them and value the programming and it makes me feel good. When I donate, I get a member card, which sits on my kitchen counter in its envelope for a few months until I either recycle/throw away the whole shebang or I file it to away somewhere never to be seen again. I never actually looked at the member benefits until recently.

But guess what? There are really good member benefits! There’s a buy-one-get-one-free deal at Aurora Provisions* on Pine Street in downtown Portland for sandwiches (I keep meaning to write a post about Aurora Provisions and their sandwiches and brownies, which are both VERY VERY GOOD) and a similar deal for entrees at Local 188.

On the one hand, going into Aurora Provisions and getting a free sandwich using your public radio coupon is more or less the definition of nerdy yuppie things. On the other hand, free sandwiches!

I love their turkey/cranberry sandwich, and they often have a really good special panino with beef, and the marinated vegetables panino is also delicious. Their peanut butter brownies and their walnut brownies are just about the best you can find in Portland.** And the staff are very nice.

Moreover, tomorrow is the big MPBN member/fundraising drive, so it’s not a bad time to pony up some cash to support your public radio.

* As of writing this, their website is all janked. They’re at 64 Pine Street, Portland in the West End. I believe they open at 8 am. It’s next to Caiola’s. They have coffee, pre-made sandwiches (breakfast sandwiches in the morning, lunch sandwiches later on), lots of cookies and sweets, chocolates, prepared foods, wine, and other elegant and expensive foodstuffs. There’s some nice seating by the windows looking out onto the parking lot. It’s a pretty area, and you could always get sandwiches and walk to the Western Prom for a bit of a picnic.

** That’s right! GAUNTLET THROWN!

Filed under portland maine public radio cataloging the ways in which I am uncool

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Lunch at Bresca
I want to apologize to Krista Kern Desjarlais and the good folks at Bresca for my crappy iPhone photo of their magnificent burger.
It’s the best burger I’ve had in a long, long time. It has bacon and cheddar cheese and mayo and mustard and ketchup and the juices run down your hand and it’s just really, really fantastic. 
I mean, they have other great stuff. When I went last Friday with Kate, she got the Brussels sprout salad, which was better than a Brussels sprout salad has any business being, and a soup that I didn’t try because I was too laser-focused on my burger at that point but that looked wonderful. And then I went again Saturday and got the Bresca “Madame” sandwich, their version of the croque madame, which involved a perfectly cooked egg, gruyere, and speck. And then I got a chocolate Napoleon for desert (see also: living your best life). I know lunch is not a meal that generally involves desert, but I just felt that if you have an opportunity to eat one of Desjarlais’ deserts, you have an obligation to take advantage of that opportunity. I regret nothing.
If you haven’t been, the restaurant is pretty and tiny, with warm brown walls, a chalkboard menu, fresh flowers, and a huge butcher block counter. The dishes are in the range of $12 (desert was $10). 
And you should go. It’s a pretty fantastic way to eat at one of Portland’s best restaurants for very little money. They’re open Weds - Sat from 11:30 am to 2:30 pm (as well as dinner on Friday and Saturday).
Which means you can be eating this burger as soon as tomorrow.*
* If you live in Portland.

Lunch at Bresca

I want to apologize to Krista Kern Desjarlais and the good folks at Bresca for my crappy iPhone photo of their magnificent burger.

It’s the best burger I’ve had in a long, long time. It has bacon and cheddar cheese and mayo and mustard and ketchup and the juices run down your hand and it’s just really, really fantastic. 

I mean, they have other great stuff. When I went last Friday with Kate, she got the Brussels sprout salad, which was better than a Brussels sprout salad has any business being, and a soup that I didn’t try because I was too laser-focused on my burger at that point but that looked wonderful. And then I went again Saturday and got the Bresca “Madame” sandwich, their version of the croque madame, which involved a perfectly cooked egg, gruyere, and speck. And then I got a chocolate Napoleon for desert (see also: living your best life). I know lunch is not a meal that generally involves desert, but I just felt that if you have an opportunity to eat one of Desjarlais’ deserts, you have an obligation to take advantage of that opportunity. I regret nothing.

If you haven’t been, the restaurant is pretty and tiny, with warm brown walls, a chalkboard menu, fresh flowers, and a huge butcher block counter. The dishes are in the range of $12 (desert was $10). 

And you should go. It’s a pretty fantastic way to eat at one of Portland’s best restaurants for very little money. They’re open Weds - Sat from 11:30 am to 2:30 pm (as well as dinner on Friday and Saturday).

Which means you can be eating this burger as soon as tomorrow.*

* If you live in Portland.

Filed under bresca portland maine burgers

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(Photo from Eventide’s facebook page)
I don’t know what your plans are for this weekend, but I strongly suggest they include the Maine shrimp special at Eventide pictured above.
I met a friend for lunch on Friday, successfully leaving the house by myself with the kiddo and venturing out into the world. It was good!*
We had planned to go to Bresca for lunch now that they’re serving lunch, only to discover that Bresca was closed. Happily, Eventide Oyster Co. is just down the street and was open.
Eventide is a medium-fancy oyster bar from the owners of Hugo’s. I say medium-fancy because even though the atmosphere is casual, it’s also kind of slick and hip inside, and the food about five notches up from the oyster-bar-on-the-waterfront type deal (I’m not naming names, but there are no oyster bars on Commercial Street that I’d be willing to eat at) (and I LOVE oysters).
It’s crazy to me that Portland was without a place like Eventide until so recently, and I never ever want to go back to those dark days again. Every time I go there thinking I’m going to have a casual, not-too-expensive meal and then I see the menu and the specials and kind of black out and go on an ordering spree. I’ve never regretted it, but I’ve also never left having ordered fewer than four things.
Everything we had was spectacular. In particular, you should go now and get these two specials:
- The whole fried Maine shrimp, which are reminiscent of soft shelled crab except more convenient to eat. Maine shrimp are wonderful, by the way, and have a limited season and there are limited quantities available.
- The lamb belly. It was all I could do not to shovel that whole thing into my mouth as quickly as possible before my dining companions realized what happened.
Godspeed.
* Except when the kid reached his limit around dessert and then screamed for the entire walk back to the car and car ride home. This is a child that does not enjoy his carseat.

(Photo from Eventide’s facebook page)

I don’t know what your plans are for this weekend, but I strongly suggest they include the Maine shrimp special at Eventide pictured above.

I met a friend for lunch on Friday, successfully leaving the house by myself with the kiddo and venturing out into the world. It was good!*

We had planned to go to Bresca for lunch now that they’re serving lunch, only to discover that Bresca was closed. Happily, Eventide Oyster Co. is just down the street and was open.

Eventide is a medium-fancy oyster bar from the owners of Hugo’s. I say medium-fancy because even though the atmosphere is casual, it’s also kind of slick and hip inside, and the food about five notches up from the oyster-bar-on-the-waterfront type deal (I’m not naming names, but there are no oyster bars on Commercial Street that I’d be willing to eat at) (and I LOVE oysters).

It’s crazy to me that Portland was without a place like Eventide until so recently, and I never ever want to go back to those dark days again. Every time I go there thinking I’m going to have a casual, not-too-expensive meal and then I see the menu and the specials and kind of black out and go on an ordering spree. I’ve never regretted it, but I’ve also never left having ordered fewer than four things.

Everything we had was spectacular. In particular, you should go now and get these two specials:

- The whole fried Maine shrimp, which are reminiscent of soft shelled crab except more convenient to eat. Maine shrimp are wonderful, by the way, and have a limited season and there are limited quantities available.

- The lamb belly. It was all I could do not to shovel that whole thing into my mouth as quickly as possible before my dining companions realized what happened.

Godspeed.

* Except when the kid reached his limit around dessert and then screamed for the entire walk back to the car and car ride home. This is a child that does not enjoy his carseat.

Filed under Portland Maine Eventide Oysters Shrimp