Monday, August 29, 2011

Wish it Were Closer, Part 2: Culture, Park Slope, New York

As I dipped my spoon back into my homemade apricot yogurt, I sighed, glad that I could experience Culture, but needing it more back in Massachusetts. Culture: An American Yogurt Company was started by Jenny Ammirati and her husband, Gino. The antibiotic and hormone free milk comes from an upstate dairy and is both strained on the premises into fresh yogurt and made into frozen yogurt. I have tried to make frozen yogurt and it tastes, like, well, sour yogurt. But here the apricot yogurt was tart, refreshing and lovely. I loved it even more with the apricot-ginger topping. I tried a taste of the full fat fresh Greek yogurt which was as rich as sour cream and was heavenly with a raw honey. This is precisely the type of place that I would love to take my young sons for a treat, but a 4 1/2 hour drive seems a bit unwieldy for such a thing. So, for now I will have to regal them with tales of one more speciality they can have when they finally make it down here. And Park Slopers can rejoice.

Culture: An American Yogurt Company, 331 Fifth Avenue, Park Slope, Brooklyn

Sunday, August 28, 2011

The Great Veggie Grain Salad: My Go-To-Summer (And Fall and Spring) Meal

I am trying to simplify life.  I wanted a dish that was vegetarian, inexpensive, could be prepared in advance and was good enough to be served to company.  And thus my grain salad was born.  It is simple, but can be varied tremendously.
I start with a cooked and cooled grain. My favorites this summer have been farro, barley, wheat berries, quinoa, Israeli couscous, brown rice, etc. I toss in diced vegetables such as cucumbers, tomatoes, red pepper, carrots, fresh peas, sweet corn off the cob, and green beans. I mix it with lemon juice, olive oil salt and pepper. And then I put it into the refrigerator.  It make enough to eat for that first night, but is at its best on the second day as the grain absorbs the citrus and tomato juices.

I put it out on the table as is, and then offer mix-ins on the side.  My favorites are chickpeas, shelled edamame, aleppo pepper (for kick) and/or chopped scallions or chives.

As for proportions, well, I improvise each time.  I use as many veggies as I have on hand. I often let the grains dominate, unless the best tomatoes are on hand. I squeeze in one to two lemons and add to taste. Same with the olive oil, salt and pepper.

The good news: my three year old and guests love it. I can make it and bring it to work for lunch. I always have the ingredients on hand. And, is a start towards making things just a bit easier.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Snow's in Orleans: Train Heaven on a Rainy (or any) Day

Rain in Wellfleet means a few limited choices: the library (if it is open), the Wellfleet Audubon's Nature Center or the movies (if there is G-rated fare).  But this year we discovered another treat.
Tucked into Snow's Home and Garden Store are two amazing train displays. As in model trains. As in electric model trains that go in circles and can entrance my three year old for quite a while.
Snow's a department store of sorts, besides having everything from arts supplies, placemats, lawn furniture and decent children's toys is a model train and boat mecca.  I was fascinated by the Civil War figurines, the turn-of-the-century trains and the little village that they had created.  Sure, we would have loved to have been splashing under the sun at the ocean, but it was a lovely way to spend an hour or so...

Snow's Home and Garden Store, 22 Main Street, Orleans

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Indian Neck Beach: Our Favorite Beach of 2011

Ponds are beautiful, peaceful places. The ocean is dramatic. But there is nothing like Indian Neck Beach for a three and five year old boys.  Indian Neck curls into Wellfleet Harbor and is technically a bay beach. 
What this means is you get the dynamic views of the tides, varied seashells and rocks, spectacular views of boats and jetties, and calm water for children to play in. It has fast become our favorite beach to go to when we visit Wellfleet, MA.  
My boys love that they can try to catch minnows, play in their beach rings and jump the mini-waves.  We know that depending on the tide, Indian Neck is a completely different experience.  A Wellfleet Beach Permit is required for Indian Neck Beach from June through Labor Day, though I have no doubt this place is gorgeous in the off season.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Hole In One: Really Good Donuts...In My Sons' Eyes

I am not a donut fan. And with the exception of eating lavender doughnuts at the Doughnut Plant in New York City, I rarely indulge. A donut breakfast in Wellfleet, however, is one of my sons' summer treats.
The Hole In One is both a restaurant and donut shop and has two locations in Orleans and Eastham. By 9:00 on a Sunday morning the Eastham line snaked out the door, but it moved fast as people snatched up homemade donuts.  And we got to the front just in time to see them sliding fresh honey glazed yeast donuts into a pan.
The three year old prefered his huge cake like chocolate glazed, but the five year old and I liked the light and tender honey glazed.  They have many other varieties, including Whoopeecreme, honeywheat (is that an oxymoron?), and sour cream.  It wasn't the Doughnut Plant...but it was also 10 minutes from the National Seashore!

Hole In One Donut Shop, Orleans and Eastham, MA

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Mac's Seafood On the Wellfleet Town Pier and Why You May Find Us There

It is a pleasure to eat good food while watching boats stream in and out of Wellfleet Harbor. When my kids are done eating they curl their toes in the sand and collect shells.  And then we all grab ice cream cones and try to eat them before the creamy drips scatter on our chins.
Mac's Seafood has many locations in Wellfleet, but we have only tried their casual place on the Welllfeet Town Pier.  It is typically overpriced but the food is solid and the fish is from their fish market next door. I like getting their burritos for a quick, easy and healthy meal.  Friends love the burritos with grilled scallops, but I preferred the grilled shrimp. My mom got a grilled chicken salad on mixed greens.

We always call ahead, meaning that our food is ready as soon as we drive up. After dinner, we stroll on the town pier and watch the fishing boats and scan Indian Neck beach to see where we went swimming that day.  And then we get our ice cream. Always the ice cream.

Mac's Seafood on the Wellfleet Town Pier

Saturday, August 20, 2011

The Wellfleet Bay Audubon Society: A Treat In All Weather

In the middle of Wellfleet is a 1,100 acre oasis: The Wellfleet Bay Audubon Society.  It offers a chance to hundreds of words  such as Warblers, Sparrows, Yellowlegs, Sandpipers, Sanderlings and Egrets.  
There is a lovely butterfly garden, a boardwalk and gorgeous views of the salt marsh, tidal flats, and Cape Cod Bay.  In many ways it offers a microcosm of what makes Wellfleet such a special place to explore.  
As wonderful as it is for adults, it is a fabulous place for children-whether it is sunny or rainy. As long as the weather is nice, it is a great place to take a walk. The Audubon supplies kids with a scavenger hunt sheet to record and track observations of birds, mammals, tracks, flowers and insects.
The many Audubon volunteers are good at offering suggestions for short walks or longer hikes. We usually bring our sturdy (Mountain Buggy) stroller so that we aren't limited by the kids' legs. 
One of my favorite parts, though, of the Wellfleet Audubon is their gorgeous Nature Center.  It has two huge aquarium tanks, microscopes and binoculars, books, an area to touch all kinds of shells and skeletons and many models of birds and other mammals. 

It is a mini-Natural History/Science Museum that is perfect for a rainy day. They also have workshops and walks for adults and kids, week long camp programs for young naturalists and even a small campground.  And finally, for my kids, at least, the best treat: a small gift shop where my sons bought "bug jars" and nature books that entertained us throughout our vacation.

The Wellfleet Bay Audubon, 291 State Highway, Route 6, Wellfleet

Friday, August 19, 2011

PB Boulangerie: A Wellfleet Highlight. Again. And Again. And Again.

Those buttery layers, filled with molten chocolate, are why I went to PB Boulangerie 10 times over two weeks in Wellfleet.  Sure I raved about it last year.  But this year I really fell in love.  My five year old, now a French bread connoisseur got it, requesting the baguette daily.  My three year old started waking up asking for "Cwahsints."  And I just wanted more.  The good news? I was able to try a wide range of their goods (You know. I HAD to do the research, right?)  So here is what we enjoyed:
Their raspberry tart was as beautiful as ever. Each raspberry was plump and tart, sitting on just the right amount of custard so that the crispy, buttery shell wouldn't get soggy.
The croissants were buttery, flakey, breakfast, lunch and dinner treats. I still prefer the dark chocolate and find the almond too rich, while the plain is just right.
The baguettes were our daily bread.  Each loaf is utter and complete heaven, especially when warm. Somehow they have just nailed the perfect salt to dough and tender to crusty ratios. They lose their spark by the next day, but are wonderful in soup (I doctored up some Kale soup and tossed them), and tossed with chunks of August tomatoes, olive oil and salt.
The lovely and tangy lemon tart was full of lemon zest and the deep dark and rich chocolate tart was so decadent four of us could share it.
The had two other raspberry pastries.  They have French danishes with raspberries (or blueberries) that  were baked in buttery croissant dough.  However, another of my favorites was actually a muffins sized tower that mixed with raspberries, brioche dough and cream.
The apricot tarte which had just sour apricot halves sitting on a buttery dough was delightful. (Other versions included the nectarine pictured above, cherries or rhubarb.)
The fruit tarts were as artistic as ever and featured a myriad of combinations of fresh figs, currents, peaches, raspberries, blackberries on a buttery cookie crust and topped with just enough custard to add texture without making the tart soggy.
The "Pain Au Chocolat" is brioche dough with nibs of white chocolate that melt into the bread and create, as my sister-in-law put it, a marshmallowy bread.  My mother declared it heavenly and she doesn't even like white chocolate or marshallows!
The "Pain Au Fromage" and "Pain Au Fromage et Lardons" were as smokey and savory and cheesy as ever.  This year I also tried the Pain Meteil and the Viverais, as well as the Pullman style White.
The huge farmer's loaf (which you can buy as a 1/4 or 1/2 loaf) which is tender, sour and full of wheat with a chewy crust.  This was spectacular when fresh, but also freezes beautifully to toast and eat with soup, cheddar cheese or slathered with Nutella.
The "Pizza of the Day" was perfect as an appetizer with a cold glass of white wine. On this day it was topped with the thinnest slices of zucchini and eggplant topped with Parmesan.
The remarkably bittersweet brownie, tender oatmeal cookie and dark chocolate cookie were popular with the kids.
Their meringues are almost one foot long and melt on the tongue. Think of it as cotton candy for adults with the fleeting taste of toasted almonds.
The Croque Monsieur, recommended to me by another customer, consisted of thick white bread layered with smoky ham, rich mornay sauce, gruyere and then...more mornay, Gruyere and ham.  It was so rich that I could only eat a few bites at a time, but it reheated beautifully the next day.

I was so much more impressed with the counter help this year. The main crew, Amanda, Rachel and Sam were as informative as one would hope and always helpful.  That being said, you still have to plan your time well and be prepared for a wait or go to PB Boulangerie at off hours.
So, some tips:  See the picture above?  No line!  I found that if I arrived between 3 and 4 pm, the wait was about 15 minutes.  Yes, the variety may be just a bit less than in the morning. But my baguettes were still warm out of the oven. The tarts were still glorious. There were still croissants to munch for a pre-dinner snack and brownies to buy for dessert. Really, a heated up day old chocolate croissants is still delicious.  Second option: Call 24 hours in advance and order $50 worth of goods. Don't worry: it is remarkably easy to spend that amount. The next morning, just saunter up to the front of the line,  sign on the dotted line and grab your stash.  If you absolutely need your croissant fresh as you wake up, bring a paper, a good attitude and chat up your fellow line mates.  'Cause the the morning line and system is as convoluted as I remembered from last year. The servers are very good, overall, but since they need to make coffee, cappucino AND deal with a myriad of customer questions AND ring up the items, the line is still S.L.O.W.  Expect about one hour wait for your goodies.  Fourth tip: on your last day, buy enough to fill the freezer. And then start looking forward to next summer's return.   Remember, they are closed on Mondays and Tuesdays so plan accordingly.

And if you have been to the Bistro, let me know what you think...Friends who ate there this year said it was good, and even better in the off season. Hopefully I will be able to make it down in the fall (and to stock up my freezer once more!)

PB Boulangerie, 15 Lecount Hollow Road, Wellfleet

Monday, August 15, 2011

The Sweet from the Bitter: Checking Out Brooklyn, NY

For the past 4 years I have listed Kami, blogger-mom-educator extrodinaire and Seth, an amazing principal-dad and, yes, blogger, as the people to call if neither I, nor my ex-husband could pick the kids up from school. They, and their beautiful sons, are more than my best friends. They are my family. And with two incredible job opportunities and a love for New York, they just moved back to The City. More specifically, they moved to Park Slope in Brooklyn. So, while I am stuck with blank lines on my sons' back to school forms, it means a chance to explore New York and, Brooklyn, a borough I barely know. So I headed down for the first time to see their new home.

The good news?  A gluttonous chance to chow and to spend time with friends. Over the next few posts you will find out more about my trip to BKLYN Larder (awesome gourmet food store, charcuterie, lunch stop, prepared food stop), our insane Malaysian barbeque experience at Fatty 'Cue in Williamsburg, fabulous sushi and homemade tofu at Habino and homemade frozen yogurt at Culture.

Some other stops I made while I was there:

The Clay Pot at 162 7th Avenue, Brooklyn: I last visited this craft store about 10 years ago. I loved it then and still do now, full of gorgeous hand crafted housewares, jewelry and accessories.

Sky Ice at 63 5th Avenue, Corner of St. Marks Ave, Brooklyn: In addition to authentic Thai dishes, this place has homemade ices (sorbets, really) in a rainbow of colors and flavors that I had never tried. Sapota, anyone? Or Dragonfruit? Magosteen or durian? I ended up chosing a "sampler" which were 5 generous scoops all served in little chocolate shells. The Mango was vegan, but creamy. The fresh coconut was a bit too sweet for my taste. The lemongrass was bright and, well, vegetal. The watermelon-strawberry was refreshing. But, my favorite by far? The lychee-rose. The two flavors complimented each other beautifully, the floral of one bouncing off the tartness of the other.

I made a few pit stops at Gorilla Coffee, on of the many artisan coffeshops, for their dark roast and cold-brewed iced coffee.

I was disappointed with the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens. Whether because of financial cutbacks or simply the hot summer heat, the place looked weathered and saddened. That being said, I look forward to returning at other seasons as it is simply so large and diverse.

We had breakfast at Miriam, an Israeli establishment. We dipped warmed pitas into Shakshuka: poached eggs sitting lazily in a pureed tomato sauce. The Israeli salad was refreshing after a night eating meat, though it was a bit heavy on the olives. Overall I was reminded that, no breakfast does not have to be pancakes, toast, or croissants.

After a dip in the Red Hook Pool we lunched the New York way: At El Olomega, a Salvadoran Pupusa food truck. The homemade pupusas were creamy, cheesy and filled with bits of loroco flower. The dish was served traditionally with fuschia pickled cabbage, a squirt of crema and hot sauce. For $2.50 it was one of the cheapest lunches I have had in New York, ever. We sipped up horchata which the vendor patiently explained was made with ground Morro seed. It tasted like sweetened milk, even though it was actually vegan.

Feel free, then to e-mail me or comment with other most-see Brooklyn experiences. 'Cause I can guarantee I will be back.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

The Cottage, Chestnut Hill: Two Moms and a Night Out

It had been over a year since my friend Jen and I were able to get together. So when we made dinner plans, we knew we wanted to meet at place that was comfortable and convenient.  We wanted to be able to relax and really talk.  We also, though, wanted good food. Then I remembered The Cottage in Chestnut Hill and that they had generously offered to allow me to try it out with a friend. I have had a number of good meals at The Cottage in Wellesley and was optimistic about this new location.
And in fact, we had a lovely meal.  Like the Wellesley setting, The Cottage is decorated in calming blues and greens and overall has an atmosphere that is just comfortable.  Our server, Nate, was friendly and helpful.
We began with two drinks. Jen tried the night's speciality: a mix of huckleberry vodka and lemonade. I preferred my blood orange margarita which mixed Cuervo Silver tequila, blood orange juice, lime juice, agave nectar, Cointreau and included a wonderful Demera sugar rim.

When Nate suggested our first appetizer, I was hesitant: fried avocado?  It sounded impossibly rich. Truth be told, Jen and I couldn't stop eating it!  A play on the thick potato skins of our teens, the avocado was breaded, fried and topped with, yes, bacon, spiced sour cream, cheese and pico de gallo.  I would never make this at home, but I could easily crave this.
Our salad featured a summer treat: frozen grapes sitting on spinach leaves with candied pecans, feta cheese and fresh strawberries and blueberries.  Served with an orange vinaigrette it could easily be a light meal.
The Cottage is known for their fish dishes and that night they were offering wild Alaskan salmon. It was served with an arugula, corn and wild mushroom salad, as well as potatoes.  I enjoyed the earthy salad, but the potatoes were undercooked. And the salmon was...fine. It was a bit underseasoned and while good, did not astound us.
However, I enjoyed my filet mignon, cooked medium rare and topped with herb butter.  The accompanying potatoes, smashed and served with fontina, more sour cream and more butter were pretty heavenly. (Yes, I indulged that night!)
For dessert we tried another special: a double chocolate rocky road brownie topped with a scoop of ice cream. It was as rich as it sounded and too sweet for my taste. But we still ate it all.  We had to, right?
We also had a trio of Giovanni's iced treats.  My favorite was the smooth passion fruit gelato.  The blueberry sorbet would have benefited from lemon juice while the pineapple sorbet was a bit icy.

It was clear that children are welcome here.  And I appreciated that the children's menu offered more than the typical chicken fingers: tuna slider, meat loaf, chicken over garden salad.  And the sides included fruit salad, carrot and celery sticks or jasmine rice.  Kids' entrees, with a side and a beverage are $7.50.  In fact, that night the restaurant was filled with kids.  I may bring my kids to brunch.  At that meal, for $7.50 my kids could get pancakes, french toast or eggs.

But realistically, I may save the Cottage at Chestnut Hill for this: as a good place to meet a friend to have a drink, to enjoy a salad, and to really catch up.

The Cottage Chestnut Hill, 47 Boylston Street (Route 9), Chestnut Hill