Monday, October 8, 2012

Sunbird: A New Wellfleet Stop

We have our standbys in Wellfleet. We start at Arnold's for the fried shrimp, steamers and heaps of onion rings.  Mac's offers scallop burritos and a view.  PB Boulangerie means rich breakfast each morning. And the Wicked Oyster is sufficient for that one nice dinner. But each year I am on the lookout for some place new. And this year it was a food truck of all places, set right on Route 6 after the Wellfleet Post Office and before PJs.  The Sunbird Food Truck is having its first summer as a fast "slow food truck."
And, it is absolutely my style of food: local, fresh and with a menu that changes daily depending on what is available.  Each time I drove by, I longed for the Slow Roasted Porchetta sandwich. Of course, on the one day I went, the porchetta wasn't available!
But I was saved by the recommendation of chef and co-owner, J'aime Sparrow who led me to the market sandwich. On that day, the sandwich had fresh grilled zucchini, tomato, greens, proscuitto, a fried egg and, the best part, citrus ricotta. Together the citrus was the best compliment to the rich sandwich. Other treats included a gourmet hot dog on brioche or fresh fish tacos.  I could have taken the sandwich to the beach, but my impatience got to me and I shared one of the tables that sit alongside the truck.
I didn't want to keep J'aime and her crew from cooking for too long, but in a brief interaction I learned that she had spent 10 years in San Francisco before heading back to the east coast to open the truck with her husband, Christian.  The truck is currently open Wednesday through Sunday from 10 to 3. As for the porchetta, her plan is to try to have it on Thursdays and Fridays.

The Sunbird Food Truck is officially located at 2520A State Highway, Route 6, Wellfleet, MA

Sunday, September 30, 2012

PB Boulangerie: Still Dreamy

If I close my eyes while waiting in line at PB Boulangerie, for one minute I can pretend I am in Paris as the smell of butter wafts through the door.  Returning to a summer retreat is risky. Often the memories of routine places can be misleading. But in the case of PB Boulangerie, the treats and breads were as good as I remember. I tried to beat the lines this year by embracing my sons' early wakings (6 am.) I would get in line by 6:45, and if it was a good day, be driving away, full of pastries by 7:10.  The croissants were as flaky as I remember and even better warmed in the toaster for a few minutes.  The lemon tart, touched with creamy meringue was as heavenly as I had hoped.  And the pain au fromage et lardons was still smokey and cheesy.  I also tried their apple tart which combined a tender apple compote with roasted apples and a bittersweet chocolate filled chocolate eclair. But the two highlights this year were also new. The first was a dark chocolate and candied orange bread.  One slice, heated for a minute in the toaster brought the best of breakfast and dessert in one meal.  It also freezes beautifully, perfect for stocking up for the fall.  Then, the "Wellfleet Brioche," was a sweet dough, topped with butter and sugar giving it a crumbly crunch. But the best aspect was the red hazelnuts that sunk into the surface adding a nuttiness to each bite.   While the service is faster, the lines are still slow due to a only having two cashiers (at most) and the need to make cappuccinos.  At its worst, I waited 30 minutes while others had to stand in line for an hour. As I noted last year, I try to embrace my chance to read a book or the paper, to shmooze with the other excited customers and to inhale the sweetness to come. It is vacation after all!

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Scampo at the Liberty Hotel: Of Cracklings, Beets and Homemade Pasta

Our waiter at Scampo sold us on the pasta by insisting that he loved the dish even though he "really didn't like beets."  I actually adore beets. Roasted in the oven and topped with olive oil and salt they are a perfect meal. Even for a beet lover, the egg pasta with beets and summer truffles at Scampo were a revelation.  The tender noodles were tossed with diced beets, slivers of beets and baby beets, as well as melted butter, lemon and so many slices of earthy truffles. It was topped with roasted seaweed, adding a subtle saltiness to the dish. Together the dish was a sweet and savory delight.  It is the dish that would woo me back to Scampo.
That wasn't the only pasta dish that we were still recalling the next day.  The simple sounding spaghetti with cracklings was over the top. Little fried cubes of porky goodness were nestled in olive oil and hot peppers. Each smoky, crunchy, chewy bite was heavenly. I would have loved the dish even more with ziti or shells that could easily hold the cracklings.
Another dish hit the mark as well.  I had read many positive review about the pork chop. But I was dismissive: how good could a pork chop really be? Well, it was that good: juicy, tender and burnished by the wood grill. I haven't eaten a pork chop in years and this just converted me. It was so huge that it lasted through dinner that night, and lunch the next day.  The only downside? The accompanying apple risotto was undercooked, too sweet and reminiscent of breakfast porridge. The dish would have fared far better with a seasonal green, like broccoli rabe sautéed with garlic.
That being said other dishes also offered tasty elements.  The green bean tempura was delicious and sweet having been blanched before frying.  We also loved the fava bean dip that came with salty, homemade Parmesan bread sticks as we sat down.
While we didn't love the almond milk dressing, the tender fried eggplant was perfect with the sweet homemade mozzarella.  This was one of many dishes that you can get from their mozzarella bar.
We also tried the famous lobster pizza.  The crust was reminiscent of a simple flatbread and coated with a creamy, sherry infused sauce. On top of that, chunks of sweet lobster.  It was good. But, truth be told: I am a lobster purist, craving a steamed lobster or a chilled lobster roll.
Desserts were...fine. The most memorable part? The freeze dried lemon (intended as a garnish to our lemon semifreddo!) that was tart and bitter and contrasted the dinner.  The semifreddo itself was too sweet, reminding me of the inside of a chilled key lime pie.
The chocolate dessert was also underwhelming.  It consisted of a chocolate mousse coated with a chocolate ganache and chocolate sprinkles.  Unfortunately none of the elements were calorie-worthy.  However, I couldn't stop spooning up the Guianduja ice cream. Creamy, nutty, not too sweet: it was lovely.
We enjoyed our starter drinks.  My companion had the Gara with bourbon, ginger liquer, lemon and mint while I had the Pompelmo with tequila, grapefruit, agave, lime and mint.  I loved my glass of red wine, a Supertuscan Querciabella Mongrana, which was tasted of berries.
Scampo is located in the Liberty Hotel. Ultimately the restaurant walks the boundary between the safety of a hotel restaurant and taking leaps of faith in the customers.  Tossing chunks of sweet beets on pasta and twirling them with lemon and seaweed was unique.  A chocolate mousse....simple.
Will I return? Possibly. The truth is that the pork chop was $36 and the lobster pizza was $26, which, at least in my world, is serious money.  I am incredibly grateful to Scampo for treating me and my dining companion to this meal.  I could, though, see myself heading to Scampo after a walk on the Boston Common or by the beautiful Charles. I could also envision a stop in for a bowl of the pasta or naan baked fresh in the wood burning oven while sitting at the bar.  I would also love to return on a Friday night for more pork as Scampo offers a WHOLE. SUCKLING. PIG!!!  While the atmosphere is too boisterous to qualify for a romantic, quiet evening, I will recommend Scampo to friends who want to head out for an evening of good food, an engaging scene and a perfect location.  Clearly, Scampo is a popular place for many people. The night we were there I saw a huge range of people, some clearly hotel guests and others locals, stopping in to share in the pasta, pizza and creations of Chef Lydia Shire. So, go, enjoy and save room for the cracklings.

Scampo, 215 Charles Street, at the Liberty Hotel in Boston.


Monday, August 13, 2012

I Went to Ikea and Left with Chips!

I always feel like Alice in an anti-Wonderland at Ikea in Stoughton. Do I want chrome or plated cabinet knobs? Birch veneer or matte white? Do the floor arrows ever end? How many uncomfortable but really cheap couches can one person really sit on?  Will any of this even look remotely decent in my new home? Shopping as a single woman means, yes, I get the pleasure of making all the decisions, but it can make Ikea-land even more overwhelming.  So, before I moved and actually had to buy Ikea furniture, I went to just do an Ikea-scan. I arrived as they opened at 10, armed with a camera, a notebook and my realtor's floor plan of my new house. 4 hours later (!!!) I felt that I had conquered the whole Swedish mega-store. I came home. I pinned my new finds on Pinterest.  Ultimately I did return to buy a towel rack and kitchen shelves and a living room lamp. On that day, though, I spent my money on the more important matters: food. First, despite bringing a fruit, I was starving by 11. So, for lunch I had a not-terrible bowl of pea soup with knackebrod, otherwise known as relatively tasteless crackers. By 12:30, I needed SUGAR and CAFFEINE.  For $1.75 I got a gooey, calorie- and sugar-laden and shockingly tasty cinnamon bun and an acceptable cup of coffee. But the best was at the end when I raided the Swedish food mart.

I love their Lingonberry saft (think sweet-tart sugar syrup) to mix with lime juice and seltzer (and gin!) for raspberry-lime rickies. Their $.99 chocolate bars can end my chocolate fixes immediately.  I don't even like potato chips but their Potatischips with Graddfil and Lok (sour cream and onion potato chips) are perfect with my boozy ricky. (Can we say "stress eating?") And I can never pass up on their gorgeous chartreuse cloudberry jam. Good thing I walked around the whole store a few times!

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Ana Sortun's Chef Sets: Complex Meals in Minutes

The intoxicating smell of mint rose up as soon as I tore open the first of three packets. That alone surprised me.  Even better, in less than 10 minutes with almost no prep, I was sitting down to eat sautéed shrimp with quinoa, Greek herbs and raisins.  I was trying out the new Chef Sets, a collaboration of one of my favorite chefs, Ana Sortun (of Oleana and Sofra) and SetPoint Health in Newton.  When I was asked if I would want to sample the new line, I never hesitated. Easy to prepare meals? Vegetarian options? Complex flavors?  Sure!  As a working single mom I struggle to find ways to get healthy, interesting meals to the table in less than 15 minutes.  These kits easily fit that need. Chef Sortun and Set Point Health have created 4 different options.  Each set comes with 3 packets, easy directions and a vegetarian option.  I tried two with the protein they suggested, and two vegetarian style.
Quinoa with Greek Herbs and Raisins: This was the dish with the wonderful mint.  The herb shaped the dish, lifting it up and mixing gently with dried orange. In fact, I could have happily served this at a dinner party. The suggestion which I replicated, is to use shrimp and feta. I always keep Whole Foods' frozen shrimp in my freezer for an inexpensive and easy protein fix.  Ironically, though, I loved the broccoli and quinoa the most. In fact, next time I may try pan roasted tofu.  I never would have thought (or taken the time) to grate an orange and find good dried mint for a mid-week dish.

Quinoa with Crushed Pistachios and Za'atar Spice: I loved the quinoa preparation which involved mixing it with sautéed onions and peas before adding the spice mixture. In this set, you top the quinoa with salmon and spoonfuls of Za'atar, a mixture of thyme, sumac and sesame seeds.  My favorite part? The crushed pistachios that added a wonderful contrast to the tender salmon.
Couscous with Moroccan Spices and Almonds: With little in my pantry and exhausted from packing up  to move, I reached for this set. And this time I decided to try the vegetarian recipe featured on the Chef Set Meals website.  Instead of chicken, I tossed chickpeas in with the sautéed onions and Aromatic packet. I scattered the almonds from the Garnish packet on top of the chickpeas and couscous.  I wasn't quite as taken with this set as the others. In retrospect, cooking the couscous with broth would have added much more flavor. This dish was just much more subtle than the others. But I still ate it all. In fact, I loved it the next day, cold and tossed with a bit of olive oil and sherry vinegar for a salad.
Bulgar Pilaf with Turkish Pilaf and Pistachios: This was by far my favorite grain mixture of the Chef Sets.  By using Trader Joe's precooked lentils, I was literally able to prepare this set with less than two minutes of prep. And the bulgur pilaf cooks up in 6 minutes. The point? I had a fabulous vegetarian meal together and full of cumin, spearmint, sweet and hot peppers.  The pistachios added a lovely crunch while the pepper added warmth and color to the lentils. The cucumber sauce would be just as fantastic of plain burgers or falafel.

Overall: One of the great strengths of the Chef Sets is that even the most inexperienced adult could pull these off. Second, these are a quick dish for any of us who don't have the time or money to put together these spice mixtures.  No, it will never replace a delightful meal at Oleana or Sofra, but it is certainly quicker, faster, and, of course, less expensive.  For people who are counting calories or trying to stay healthy, by following the recipes exactly, the sets empower you with knowing exactly the nutrition and caloric breakdown of your meal.  They may not be an easy sell to kids or even adults whose palettes aren't quite ready to leap into sumac or cumin and mint. But for those of us who crave full flavored and complex meals in minutes, these are a great option.

The Chef Sets are now available at selected Whole Foods, as well as Sofra in Cambridge for around $6.00.

Thank you, as well, to Chef Sets and Chef Sortun for giving me a chance to try these out.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Designers who Inspire

For the past two years, I have had home envy. From the moment I moved into my beautiful rental, my landlord told me that he would be moving back in 24 months later.  Since I knew our time was temporary, and that buying a house was on my horizon, I have been drawn to a few authors, publishers, blogs and design shows. And then on my Pinterest site I highlight all I have gathered.

Genevieve Gorder: Sigh. If there was one person that I could bring in to design my new house, it would be Genevieve Gorder of "Dear Genevieve" on HGTV.   Like any good designer, she listens to her clients and pushes them. What I love most is her desire to tell a story. She carefully combines a client's objects with one she discovers. As she said, "Design is emotionally a part of our everyday lives. What we see reflects how we feel. When a place is comforting, you are comforted."  She is a fan of built ins, flea market finds, using color to enhance a room, clustering mirrors and special objects, and yet never making a room cluttered.  She is particularly adapt at helping families create rooms that are as comfortable for kids as for adults. I tear up, pathetic as this is, at the end of most of her shows.  I would love to feel as inspired, transported and moved in my new home as her clients do.

I am definitely a fan of the Not So Big House books. I appreciate the way that Susan Susanka finds a balance between acknowledging that we lead complicated lives and need some things, but also can make do with relatively smaller spaces by using space efficiently. She also writes in a way that is very accessible.

Apartment Therapy: I have always been drawn to small spaces and had longed for a smaller house.  I loved the idea of less to clean, less energy to use, less room for clutter. Apartment Therapy is full of gems designed for people focusing on small spaces.  But the publishers also have a flare for the modern, green, contemporary, up cycled and just fabulous.

Design Sponge: This site is one of my sources for photos of before and after renovations done by real people (as in non-decorators or people with thousand to spend). Just like Apartment Therapy, it is updated multiple times A DAY which means I can spend way too much time checking out their featured products and designs.

Houzz: Sigh. This isn't my site for real ideas, unless I win the lottery any time soon! But since this is the the site for designers and decorators to show off their stuff it is also a never ending source of inspiration. I like that I can put in search terms like "warm colors living room" and find hundreds of photos that have those features.

My organizational obsessive geek loves the sites Real Simple, I Heart Organizing, and Bowl Full of Lemons. Because of these sites I am now the proud owner of my own label maker, many plastic containers and a home office binder.

Design Seeds is a sweet little site. Each day they have lovely palettes. I hope to draw from them as I create design boards for my kitchen and living room.

Taunton Press: I can count on these publishers to have books that feature gorgeous landscaping, stonescaping, hardscaping, etc.  The images are lovely and again, the books provide hopes for the future.

I don't have cable, so I have to rely on the web to get my TV fix.  But the HGTV site provides me with enough full episodes to listen to as I pack. I am a sucker for the shows that use software to quickly superimpose images of their vision on a current place.  In addition to Dear Genevieve,  I am a recent fan of CurbAppeal as my new house definitely needs it!  And I watched Holmes on Inspection religiously before my own inspection for a worst case scenario.

Feel free to throw any other ideas this way!


Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Recent finds: Gelato, Frozen Yogurt and Ice Cream

Growing up, I could never get enough of Cabot's ice cream right in Newtonville. With their strawberry ice cream cone clock, huge waffles and giant sundaes, there was little else we needed after a softball game or anytime. As I got older, White Mountain Creamery was a more exciting option as mix-ins appeared. The server would pound ice cream on a marble slab and then smooth in Reese's and Oreos and infinitely more sugary candy then seemed possible. And the best in the pre-calorie-counting days? They would jam all that into a freshly made waffle cone. By high school, I had moved onto what was then unique: one of the first frozen yogurt places in town: JP Licks. We trekked to Brookline so I could have all the non-fat coffee or mint I wanted.  As an adult, I have come to have almost no cravings for ice cream. It is too rich, too sweet, and frankly, too expensive.  But with two young sons, visiting ice cream places is just required (at least as the occasional treat!)


They have a few recent favorites. First, yes, true: my mother just took them back to Cabot's and they were in heaven.  They also enjoyed their first gelato, at the newly opened Nudo Gelateria on Watertown Street on the the Watertown/Newton line.  I loved the chocolate-orange and pistachio which weren't as cloying sweet as most ice cream.
They also like the new Frozen Yogurt Innovations (FYI) in Wayland. Opened by local families, customers just take as much of the yogurt and toppings as you want. Then, you pay by the ounce. While the California Tart just isn't as good as Pinkberry, it hits the spot. And for an occasional treat, it couldn't be more convenient.

We live near one of the few Dairy Queen restaurants.  Talk about occasional treat. About once a summer we trek over for them to get a drippy soft serve vanilla or ice cream that often melts by the time we get to the benches in the parking lot.

As for me, for the rare times I splurge, Pinkberry is still it. I stick with the basic tart flavor, typically with fresh fruit. After yoga, it is a relatively protein-rich-somewhat-healthy treat.

My favorite though? The nights we stay home, sit on the porch and the kids enjoy a little bowl of Breyer's.  Meanwhile, I sip a homemade basil lemonade. It is the easiest and most relaxing. I can conjure up.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Let the Decorating Begin: Images from Easy Canvas Prints

(Our two new photos on canvas from Easy Canvas Prints!)
A new house means clean walls, just asking to be filled with travel memories, family photos and art work.  I have one piece of good art that I treasure: my triptych of paintings from Mike Bryce of Rhode Island.  Although our family watercolors and pastels may not make it to an art festival any time soon, I will find frames for some key designs by my sons and myself.
Paintings by Mike Bryce
But I also have dozens of photos documenting trips around the world and the growth of my boys.  Financially traveling is far from reality right now.  But those images serve as daily reminders of where I have been and where, someday, I hope to take my children.  When Megan of Easy Canvas Prints asked if I wanted to check out how they transform photos to artwork, I couldn't refuse. So last fall I sent them an image that they transferred to canvas.  It was of Two Lights State Park in Maine.  Rocks tumble upon rocks creating tide pools, Pollock-esque lichen paintings and vistas along the Maine Coast.  It is a sight of peace and beauty.  And my image arrived. Easy Canvas Prints did a fine job wrapping my image on the canvas.
But when I put it on the walls, I realized I had made two mistakes. First, the size (eleven by fourteen inches) didn't capture the glory of the Park.  Second, because my image didn't have enough contrast it just looked flat up on the wall.  I hung it anyway and do love being able to glance at a place that holds memories for me, and after a recent visit, my sons.
Megan, though, offered to do one more. This time, it would be a bigger print: 24 inches by 36 inches! With a better sense of what works, I started by jumping into the Easy Canvas Prints world of stock photos. I knew what I wanted this time: sun and the drama of mountains or the beach.  I felt transported when hiking in the Canadian Rockies, Alaska and Hawaii. In each of those places I had moments where I would gasp at the natural beauty, time frozen before the Internet.  Yet as much as I liked the stock photos, none were, well...mine.  So, ultimately I chose a photo that I took while visiting Playa Del Carmen.
The photo is from a trip to the Iberostar Toucan and remains a sentimental and emotional memory for me and a favorite for my sons.  And this time I knew that between the azure of the sky, the light off the beach and the rocks, the contrast would do justice to the canvas.  Once we move, it will hang in our new family/living room.  There it will keep us in touch of the possibility of travel in our future. In the meantime it will bring beauty to us.  Until I move, I have hung it above our couch in our main room. And this, time, this time I just want to leap into the photo.  The size is perfect and absolutely captures the openness, peace, and glory of the Caribbean.  Look at again on the top photo: the size just draws the eye right in.

Just like last time, Easy Canvas Prints did a fantastic job of printing and wrapping the canvas. Their site was as easy to use as I remembered. Best of all, I discovered that they have a great feature where you can see how the size of the print will look over, say, your couch.  With so many walls to decorate, I hope to turn back to Easy Canvas Prints if (and when) we travel again.

Thanks to Megan at Easy Canvas Prints for these two great images. Easy Canvas Prints did provide these to me for free, but my write up is all my own. Best of all, though, if you like Easy Canvas Prints on Facebook, you can get 50% off plus free shipping! So click here to start: http://www.facebook.com/EasyCanvasPrints

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Pillows as Art: Parker|BROWN Textiles, Rockport








Last year as I meandered through the stores of Rockport, I discovered, on the edge of town, the loveliest of stores. There, at Parker|BROWN textiles, Helen Parker, mom and artist, creates hand dyed pillows and textiles.  And now, as I am starting plans to decorate my new home, I keep thinking about the gentle blues of of her folded pillows, a lovely design that she created from yarn and the softest of chenille on her sea themed pillows. I just wanted to sit in her studio which is directly attached to the store, to talk to her more about the creative process and to inhale the colors. I had to return to reality that day, but I will return to her store.

Parker|BROWN Textiles, 67 Broadway, Rockport, 978-546-8050

Monday, June 25, 2012

The Room to Live In: Company C Envy and Furniture Dreams

                           (My future room, now)                       (My future room...in my Company C dreams!)
The centerpiece of my new house is the first room on the right as you walk in. I struggle with what to call it. "Living Room" implies formality while "Family Room" leads to images of Legeos bounding out of containers.  And both names demand a TV.  But this room will be TV free.  Here, my sons and I will cuddle on the couch and read books. We will play endless games of Othello, Sorry, Uno, Scrabble. It is where I will read, grade papers, design menus, write, pay bills, sit with friends and a glass of wine and appetizers. It is THE room. It is our center.
(I took these photos at Company C in Portland, Maine)
It has such potential: a long space fixed on one end with a fireplace and built in bookcases.  On one wall are a huge sheet of windows looking out front. I would love to make the fireplace look as cool as this: (photo from BHG.com)
There are so many fabulous things to do with the fireplace. I am going to start by kicking out the fireplace screen. Then I may paint the top half white, put in a mirror, or just paint the mantle. Or I may extend bookcases across the top. Check out the great thick shelves in this photo. They add so much to the room.
I may get rid of the 50s style curvy tops, have toyed with painting the back of the bookshelves to match a future rug and will get new hardware on on the shelves at the base.

The rest of the room is one clean set just calling out for furniture.  There is just one small problem. I have NO furniture for it.  I envision a couch, perhaps a sectional and a few chairs. I want a table that has drawers to hide clutter. I still am trying to figure out how to use the far end of the room. Perhaps a cocktail table/mini bar?

I want to start, though, with color. And my hope is to build my room around a rug. So much of the rest of the house will be water colors: soothing blues and greens.   For this room I am thinking warmth: reds, golds, oranges, yellows.

What I want most of all would be to decorate my whole living room around one of these spectacular rugs from Company C. Each rug is handmade and inspired often by nature: beaches, rocks, mountains.  Angela Adams (also started in Portland, Maine), also has rugs that are works of art.  These modern styles are not only glorious in their shapes and colors, but oh, the textures. Think mixed media on the floor. I could never choose between either company...if I could afford one of their rugs! Alas, they are just not in this single mom's budget. So, instead, they will inspire me!

I would be happy to match the rugs with any of the lamps from Inhabit. There beautiful hand printed cloth covered pendent lamps come in shades of teal, aqua, oranges and reds.

As for furniture, I have yet to see more gorgeous pieces than those from Salem Board and Beam. The owner reclaims boards from old barns. I love his maple coffee tables.  Having just been to SOWA, there are clearly so many other great artisans making furniture with wood. I love this table as an end board. 

I don't have any couches...or at least any under 15 years old. I am just starting to explore the crazy world of seat cushions, chaises and sectionals. And reality means that I will be lucky if I can get one, or at least one that is higher end than Ikea.  In the meantime, I keep checking out this Apartment Therapy blogpost on deliciously comfy couches.

You can see more of my decorating favorites for my living room here on my Pinterest site.  Or, of course, share your own ideas!