Sunday, July 27, 2008

Retirement sunshine

I'm raising a cyber toast to my dad, who officially retired on Friday after more than 30 years leading engineering and building firms in Maine.

Check out the bottle he's holding, it contains "Retire-mints." (Isn't that a clever gift? Wish I could take credit for it!) He's looking forward to having more time to devote to his hobbies, his favorite charities and his golf swing. A big congratulations Dad!

Adam and I traveled up to Sunshine Farm for the weekend to help celebrate. On Saturday, a few relatives who live nearby came over for a cookout. The meal included my dad's favorite foods: Red hot dogs, B&M Baked Beans and corn on the cob. For dessert we ate the always crowd pleasing vegan chocolate cake from Whole Foods. The fudgey frosting and apricot jam layer never fail to score high marks.

Since it was so warm and muggy, I knew it was time to break out the rum. That morning I'd picked a cup of wild blueberries from the bush that is much older than I am and growing near the Honeymoon Cottage. I let these intense beauties inspire the cocktail.

Luckily I'd brought along a few organic lemons, which always lighten up any summer drink. The result is a perky balance between sweet and sour - perfect for a long afternoon of relaxing in the sunshine. Even for those of us who aren't retired.

Blueberry Sunshine

1 organic lemon
3 oz. rum
2 oz. Maine maple syrup
4 tsp. wild Maine blueberries
4 springs lemon balm

Cut two wedges from the lemon and then juice it. Split the lemon juice between two old fashioned glasses. Then add a spring of lemon balm and 1 tsp. of blueberries to each glass. Muddle for 2-3 seconds. Add the rum and maple syrup to a cocktail shaker filled with ice. Shake and then split the mixture between the two glasses. Add the ice from the cocktail shaker to the glasses (you'll need to add a few more fresh cubes to fill each glass). Garnish with a lemon wedge, 1 tsp. of blueberries and a spring of lemon balm. Makes 2.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Market indicators

There's lots of talk these days about the slumping economy (and I certainly hear my share of it working in the publishing industry). But you wouldn't know money is tight by checking out the Portland Farmers' Market. Here popular items frequently sell out and we patiently wait in long lines to buy the amazing food grown by our local farmers.

I snapped this photo while standing in the middle of the line to buy corn at today's market. Sure, it was the first time corn was available at the Wednesday market (it debuted at the market this past Saturday), but I stood in line to buy lettuce too.

Since this seaside city is filled with foodies and progressive thinkers, it's no wonder so many of us realize that eating real food (as opposed to the processed and packaged variety) is the key to maintaining life-long health. The trick at Portland's booming farmers' markets is just getting your hands on some ...

But when you do, it's only a couple quick steps to deliciousness. Tonight, we whipped together a super simple market meal. I took advantage of this evening's rain and cooler temps to crank up the oven and bake a handful of lovely red potatoes. Then I threw together a vinaigrette, and Adam chopped up a salad. A few ears of corn on the cob finished this meal that came together in a flash with minimal prep time.

And the taste is the sweet flavor of summer itself.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Portland dine around

Because the only photos I've remembered to snap in my own kitchen recently -- of a yummy vegetable curry -- were so horribly out of focus when I downloaded them, I couldn't possibly post them here. Instead I share a pic of a spicy and delicious vegetable curry I ate at Passage to India. The two chutneys (tamarind and red pepper) they serve with the naan are amazing too. Maybe I'll get a photo of them the next time I'm there.

This is the drunken noodle with tofu from Pom's Thai Taste. With a burst of basil, the sauce is like freshness itself, and because it's so sweet it passes for dessert!

But for an actual dessert ...
Here's a really decadent vegan cheesecake Adam and I shared at Green Elephant. My profuse apologies for the fuzzy photo quality. But it was so delicious, I had to share it. We also split a chocolate orange mousse. Why no photo you ask? Because that particular shot is so blurred just glancing at it causes eye strain. So I've saved you the pain.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Beach by train

My sister Kay and I were sent on assignment to Old Orchard Beach last week. Our mission: Eliminate the notorious hassles of parking and carnival food, which plague this seaside town. As I reported in Switch magazine, the solution lies in taking the Amtrak Downeaster and eating at one of a handful of restaurants that offer up more whole foods and plant-based fare. These include: Bayside Pita Wraps, Chrys's Restaurant, Beach Bagels and Ole' JJ's, where I ate a delicious taco bowl made with refried beans. Yum!

What really made the trip special and so stress-free was our decision to take the train. We absolutely loved it! It's so much simpler than driving, and it's always fun to meet other travelers. And it's so thrilling that train service is being restored in Maine. I can't wait for the Amtrak service to be extended to Brunswick and beyond.

Here are a few more outtakes from our day trip:

The view from the Pier.

Here's Kay with the Pier Patio Pub in the background.

Kay took this shot inside the public bathroom around 8:20 am.

We got a great view of this crazy ride from inside Ole' JJ's.

The train station in Old Orchard Beach

Getting off the train in Portland and already looking forward to making the next trip.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Whip up your walnuts

I absolutely love this quick, creamy recipe. It even appears in this year's update to the Hill Family cookbook (which puts it in very good culinary company!). Here I use the pâté as the base for a sandwich, pilling on sliced cornichon pickles, sweet and sour market beets and farmers' market lettuce.

By using walnuts (feel free to substitute your favorite nut) this pâté is a tasty and a very versatile, whole food. I use it as a dip for veggies, a topping for baked potatoes and a spread for wraps. You can mix in whatever fresh veggies you have on hand.

Right now with the market overflowing with produce I have everything from jalepeno peppers to peas to broccoli to choose from. But I kept it traditional with green onion tops and carrots. Storage carrots remain a favorite of mine in the winter, when I also like sundried tomatoes.

Walnut Pâté

2 cups organic walnuts
1/2 cup organic extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup pickle juice (or vinegar)
1 Tbsp. organic soy sauce
2 Tbsp. Maine maple syrup
2 organic garlic cloves
1 small, organic onion, chopped & sauted
1 bunch, organic onion tops, chopped
4 small, organic carrots, chopped
salt and pepper to taste

Add olive oil, pickle juice, soy sauce and maple syrup to a food processor bowl. Then add walnuts, garlic and sauted onions, and blend. Once well blended add onion tops, carrots, salt and pepper. Mix until carrots and onion tops are evenly distributed. Serves 4-6.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Wednesday market scene

Not only is the Wednesday Farmers' Market in Portland the best place to pick up tasty eats, it's a great place to see the creative economy in action. Here artist and city councilor Dave Marshall captures himself capturing Samuel James and Meantone's weekly steel guitar jam session outside the Public Market House during today's market.

But by the time I got around to snapping this photo, the real Samuel James was nowhere to be seen.

Two weeks ago, Dave was the subject matter for cartoonist and West End News publisher Ed King. Ed's wonderful rendition appears in this ad in the current edition of the WEN.

At the other end of the square, Mark Finks and friends entertained the market-goers with their swinging sounds.

But once the lunch hour arrives, don't be surprised to find some of the veggies sold out at this popular market.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Red, white & breakfast

Along with Thanksgiving and New Year's, the Fourth of July is one of my favorite holidays. The days are long, the food is abundant and the time is perfect to reconnect with family and friends. We had plenty of opportunities to do just that throughout our week-long vacation.

For me, this celebratory week kicked-off with a lovely bridal shower followed by a rockin' bachelorette party for my friend Denise (who I've known since Kindergarten). The evening's festivites started off with drinks and apps at Margarita's, then we stopped by The White Heart (to give the place an injection of tulle) and finally we wrapped up the night dancing to the captivating beat of King Memphis at Empire Dine & Dance.

More party hopping continued on Thursday, when we headed up to Sunshine Farm for the annual Fourth of July throwdown. While the party's numbers were diminished by an unexpected death in the family of our good friends (whom we thought about all weekend), we soldiered on with plenty of games and good eats.

The games included numerous sets of volleyball, a Yankee swap and a slingshot contest. My friend Kate, who is seven months pregnant and seated in this photo, even saw some action on the court. (We recruit future players in utero on the farm.)

Of course we needed this activity to work off all the wonderful food we were eating. The highlight for me was the tortilla buffet my sister made for lunch on the 4th. Here she is chopping tomatoes in the kitchen of Big Mary.
She used black beans, red kidney beans, onions and a tomato-based broth to create a delicious, plant-based filling for the whole-wheat tortillas.

I made a chunky guacamole to go with the wraps. I used 7 ripe avocados, 6 limes, 1 Vidalia onion, 3 cloves of Maine-grown garlic, a Tbsp. or so of garlic sea salt and a dash of Mother's Mountain Habanero Heaven hot sauce. I peeled and roughly chopped one avocado at a time. After I added each cut avocado to the bowl, I squeezed lime juice over it. Then I stirred in the chopped onions, minced garlic, salt and hot sauce.

My mother bought locally-raised hamburger which she wanted to be cooked up as a meat-eater's option for this buffet. But with my sister at the helm in the kitchen, me her first mate and no one who knew how to cook beef (or who wanted to cook it) nearby, we make the executive decision to keep the whole buffet vegetarian.

I went pretty traditional with my topping choices, going for the beans, salsa, red onions, green peppers, black olives, lettuce and, of course, guacamole. It was fabulous. Marcie made the yummy salad, which consisted of corn, black beans, rice and peppers in a tangy dressing.

The next morning (with the afterglow of the fireworks and the annual bonfire still clouding my vision), I rolled out of the Honeymoon Cottage and took over buffet duty in Big Mary's kitchen.

Instead of beans, this meal centered around a hearty pot of cooked whole oat groats. Topping choices include strawberries, shredded coconut, blueberries, bananas, walnuts, crushed flax seeds, dried cranberries, raisins, vegan chocolate chips, maple syrup, honey, cinnamon, hemp milk and rice milk. The results were truly delicious and decadent.

It proved the perfect fuel to get us out the door and over to the Hill family reunion on Little Sebago Lake, where we chatted nonstop, ate a ton and totally forgot to snap any pictures! Even without photographic evidence, I can tell you the food was phenomenal. As usual my mother-in-law's vegan baked beans were a stand-out. I enjoy them so much, I even ate some of the leftovers for breakfast this morning.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Postcards from Vacationland

With sunny skies and warm breezes covering the state of Maine, Adam and I didn't think twice about where we would spend this week of vacation. The answer was obvious: Right here in Vacationland.

Earlier this week we took a trip up to the Midcoast. Our first stop was in lovely Camden, where we relaxed in the park overlooking the harbor. It was a wonderful spot to read the Press Herald and take in the ocean breezes.

But I had an ulterior motive in my visit to Camden. I was after the best hummus sandwich in the entire state.
And I found it tasting just as flavorful as I remembered at the Bagel Cafe. This little gem of a sandwich shop makes all its own bagels daily. I can't tell you how they season their hummus, but it's utterly divine.

Next we headed down to neighboring Rockport to check out the Center for Maine Contemporary Art. Here we enjoyed shows featuring the work of Lois Dodd and William Wegman and a group show titled "The Gleaners." This exhibition on the top floor is quite fascinating as it consists of random objects collected by artists as a source of inspiration. The show was assembled by found-object artist Jesse Gillespie.

A short drive down Rt. 1 brought us to Rockland. Our first stop was at the Good Tern Natural Foods Co-op & Cafe, where we stocked up on snacks for the road. Once we were in downtown Rockland, we parked the car and headed into the Farnsworth Art Museum.
The museum is brimming with work by well known artists, including the lovable Robert Indiana. We viewed a number of new exhibitions, including those showcasing work by Louise Nevelson, Alex Katz and many treasures from the museum's permanent collection. We also checked out the Wyeth Center (showing works by N.C. and Jamie) and toured the Farnsworth Homestead. After popping in at a few local galleries (including the Caldbeck), we hit the road once more.

Our final stop on this coastal tour brought us to Brunswick. Since we were on vacation, we didn't feel bad about having dessert before dinner. And in Brunswick the best place to get a sweet treat is The Gelato Fiasco. All their sorbettos are vegan and they had oodles and oodles to choose from.
I finally decided to go with the strawberry carrot (how could I resist?) and the dark chocolate (you may have heard about my dark chocolate obsessions?). If the sorbetto looks a little sloppy in this picture, it's because I had to have a taste (or three) before I paused to take a picture.

And that strawberry carrot? Absolutely delightful. So good in fact I bought a pint to go.

With dessert out of the way, we headed over to the famed and funky El Camino. Even though my photos were less than stellar, the food lived up to all the delicious hype we've heard.

We started out with the chips, salsa and guacamole. I loved that the chips came with tiny lime wedges (doesn't everything taste better with fresh lime?) and the salsa had a deep, smoky taste. I ordered the vegan Rajas Tacos, which consisted of a flavorful medley of market veggies on corn tortillas and served with a side of beans and rice. It was a perfect finish to a fun-filled day trip and a testament to the abundance of tasty vegan eats in Maine.