Sunday, October 30, 2011

Home Sweet Home

Living away from your family and in a different country, you learn to live without certain things. Things you once took for granted you suddenly find are no longer there. This is generally a good thing because you learn to become more independent.  However, there are certain little pleasures that are difficult to replace...things like your favorite cup of coffee, and little relics of family travels.
I just recently was given an opporunity to return home for a visit.  It's been a while and I am very glad to be reacquainted with my family...but also with a few key elements of Canadian daily living.
One of the most fabulous things is the Second Cup coffee chain. The espresso and coffee brewed in every locally-owned Second Cup is of the highest quality, strong and dark, never over roasted or burnt. Oh and they have the BEST whipped cream..hands down.  One of the first things I do upon returning to the homeland is to stop and grab a satisfying!

Now this does not look like much at all, but this is a prime example of not judging a book by its cover...or a granola bar by its appearance.  Here, we have an Island Oat Bar, carried only by Starbucks in certain Canadian provinces.  These oat bars are the perfect sweetness, nice and chewy and great as a snack or part of breakfast.
Just yesterday, I dragged my sister on a journey to find one as they were somehow wisked away from me by the people in line right in front of two different locations! Apparently, I am not the only one who is aware of this delicious and un-assuming treat:)
Finally (for the moment anyhow), we have here an assortment of chocolate, not from Canada, but from Australia.  My mother had just recently come home from a trip abroad and had brought back from the land Down Under, a good stock of Aussie treats. My favorite are the Milky Bars, just plain white chocolate...oh and the Koalabears, milk chocolate and caramel...sooo tasty. There is something different with the Cadbury chocolate from across the is just so much better than anything you get in North America...
Now, although these are just three little things that I really miss from Canada, they make a huge difference when you need a little pick me up.
There is also something more added in them that I like to call nostalgia...ah childhood memories:)
Posts will follow with my trip to the St. Lawrence Market and other such torontonian escapades - stay tuned!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Brithday celebrations:)

Birthdays are very special...sure, everyone has one and one person's day is usually about a billion other people's as well...but this is not to say that one should not take full advantage of the opportunity to celebrate with friends, family and some good food and drink!
I started my celebrations on Saturday with a great hair cut from G20 Salon to freshen up and then met up with some friends for drinks and good times at both Zocalo and Red Lantern.  Between the great margaritas, Bubble Tea Cocktails and Flaming Plums (pictured above), it was a great start to my birthday!

Sunday was a little more low-key, but Monday, being my actual birthday, was when my friends graciously offered to take my out to dinner.  The best thing? I got to choose the location! Well, this was the best and the hardest thing because there are so many great places and to pick one is really challenging.  After going through the process of elimination, I decided to go for Area IV and from the very first dish to the candle on their olive oil chocolate cake, it turned out to be the perfect choice! 
Dishes come out as they are ready and many come out simultaneously, the style of dining makes sharing natural and easy.  We were really impressed with the butternut squash soup, which was a bit spicy and not too sweet. Only the freshest ingredients are used in all of Michael's dishes. The shaved brussel sprout salad complete with candied hazelnuts, pecorino and lemon was also delicious.
Another personal favorite that usually ends up surprising everyone is their signature bluefish salad. Marinated in pungent flavors with spring onions, although this dish is small in size, it is huge in flavor!

Their roasted cauliflower, peppered almonds and smoked paprika vinaigrette was another a tasty little number. We all really like the crunch of the almonds.
We also got their Mac and Cheese which unfortunately was missing the bacon (it was ordered and left out:( ) and the pretzel nuggets.

The pizza was last to arrive, which is to be expected as it is all freshly dressed and cooked in their open brick-oven. We decided to go with the mushroom and fontina cheese pizza with pecorino and gremolata. It came perfectly cooked and presented an excellent balance between crispy crust and toppings. This balance seems to be hard for many restaurants to strike.

Of course, my absolute favorite part of any dinner is the dessert and Area IV does not disappoint. We ordered their olive oil chocolate cake with creme fraiche, cookie crumble and salted caramel sauce. This dessert has been talked up in every review I have read and it delivered a really strong performance. I sopped up every last bit...and being the birthday girl, I definitely had more than my fair share:)
We also ordered their sundae of the day, a combination of pumpkin and vanilla house-made soft serve with house-made (sensing a trend here!) marshmallow fluff, salted-caramel sauce, and  toffee crunch. It was delicious and ordering two was an absolute necessity.
All in all, it was an amazing birthday dinner. Area IV presented the perfect space, casual and comfortable; great, friendly service; delicious food dish after dish; affordable pricing and in the end, we were all pleasantly stuffed.
Thanks so much to my friends for coming out to Cambridge on a Monday night to celebrate my special day:)  

Sunday, October 23, 2011

A blogger field trip to Privateer Rum Distillery

So here is a bus full of happy, expectant faces! Where could they all have been going?
On a fine Saturday, this group of happy campers, of which I was lucky to be a part, were going out on a field trip to the Privateer Rum Distillery in Ipswich.
The field trip consisted of about 16 food bloggers and their guest. It is always great to embark on an adventure with this crowd and it is even better to get to add some new faces to the mix.

The tour was to take place at the distillery and was put together by Rachel of Boston Food Bloggers in partnership with the great guys at Privateer. After meeting half of the crew at the Marriott in Copley, the shuttle dropped us off around 1 30 in front of a big blue warehouse. Some of the party had taken their own means of transportation and had already arrived at the factory. 

I have never been to a distillery before and did not know what to expect. I really liked the layout at Privateer though; it was spacious, with barrels of Rum lining one side and big impressive rum making machines lining the other.  Appropriately, there is a fully stocked bar in the middle of the warehouse.
The tour itself was interesting as it was nice and informal, with different members of the team stationed at various points (behind the bar, in front of the impressive machines) and ready to answer any questions that came up as we meandered.
One of the most interesting parts of the event was of a taste test between Bacardi and Privateer Rum. The difference in taste was incredible. I am not a huge rum drinker, but the Privateer Rum was so smooth that I could actually see myself enjoying it on the rocks...crazy! 

Of course, all of this rum may have gone to my head had it not been for some expert cooking catered and offered by Summer Shack. We had some great clam chowder, lobster rolls and hot dogs. However, the highlight among all the bloggers were the grilled apple fritter donuts served hot off the grill with some maple and vanilla infused whipped cream...
It was an incredibly well orchestrated event. Rachel brought it together on top of all her other projects and we all had a great time. I came out very much more educated on the inner workings of a rum distillery and had the chance to hang out with some great people.
Thanks so much to Privateer Rum! A brand I will be on the look out for from now really is a delicious product - you should keep an eye out as well!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Battling the elements on a Wednesday evening

In the middle of October, days of rain and wind are to be expected.  Nonetheless, there is something about them that, no matter how prepared you are, finds you in some weather induced mishap or other.
Wednesday of this week was one such day and had all the potential to be a day of quiet solitude.  However, with a bit of twisted luck, I ended up having a great evening with friends...water and wind be gone!
Our initial plans had been to meet at Pho and I on Huntington Ave at 6 30 for dinner, before heading over to Jordan Hall for a concert starting at 8 oclock.
Through sheer luck, I was able to snag a ride to the restaurant and ended up getting their very dry, but also very early. About five minutes later, I get a text from my friend saying he could not make it due to the weather. With some gentle nudging and minor guilt-tripping, I received a follow up text a few minutes later with an affirmative answer. I was quite happy to wait.
About a half hour later and all subsequent parties arrived, we were seated and a fabulous Thai Iced tea with Boba was placed in front of me soon after I ordered it.  Pho and I has great speedy service, and they do not hold out on the amount of tapioca pearls in their drinks...I was much enthused!
While sipping on my drink and chatting, our orders of Pho and gyoza were being prepared.  Our food came out swiftly and a steaming bowl of what was truly the perfect dish to temper the cold and harsh predicament we had all been privy to, sat steaming at my place...
I went for the vegetarian soup with delicious, fresh vegetables and big chunks of firm tofu, all swirling in a hot broth to which I added a dash of hot sauce..I do love a good bowl of Pho!

After our meal, we made our way to Jordan Hall, conveniently located just across the street, where we were about to experience a very impressive group of students from NEC.
The program, part of the Mahler Unleashed program, was entitled 'Hearing Mahler Through His Contemporaries' and consisted of a selection of composers that either influenced or were influenced by Mahler.
The group of musicians were incredibly uplifting, they had no conductor and instead had this way of communicating with each other through their body movements and eye contact.  It was truly incredible, a feast for the eyes and the ears.
I love the concert series they offer at Jordan Hall. It is such a great ressource, both for the students, who get to perform in front of very keen audiences, but also for the audience members, who get to experience the up and comers...for free.
I intend on taking much more advantage of this great incentive...and with Pho and I located conveninently right next door (as well as Symphony Sushi for that matter), it makes for a great evening...rain or shine:)

Monday, October 17, 2011

New York by day, transit by night

There is always something new to explore in New York, and no matter how little time you spend there, you somehow manage to fit in enough activities to fill a week anywhere else.
This past weekend, I went on a 24 hour New York binge...and here is what I got up to!

Having arrived Friday at around 2 a.m (Yay Lucky Star), I didn't get up to much that night...however, my first stop later on Saturday morning was a stroll around Chelsea, starting at Chelsea Market.
Described by my friend as a 'Rachel place', Chelsea Market was indeed, somewhere I would see myself spending more time.  It was chock full of interesting little specialty shops, from a hand-shaved snow cone counter...
to unique little markets each with their on tilt.  I especially liked the curried coconut cashews and dark chocolate covered marzipan at the create-your-own goodie bag station.

A definite highlight was the Lobster Place that was filled with the freshest seafood, sushi and fish and chips bar.
An innocent by-stander with a huge-flaming red lobster was kind enough to pose for a could I not ask!?
It was tough to decide what to get, especially considering the walking lobsters, but we ended up with their trio of sliders: shrimp, tarragon tuna club and lobster. The lobster was our favorite, but these little guys were all incredible. Even the buns were perfect and would have been enjoyable on their own!
Out of the Chelsea market, we continued our strolling until we came upon Billy's Bakery.  I am aware that the cupcake craze really took off in New York with places like Magnolia's Bakery and Crumbs, but Billy's is something else. I don't know exactly what makes the difference, but the carrot cupcake and layered peanut butter bar were the best I have tasted yet. I got the cupcake for my friend as a birthday treat and, seeing my poorly disguised drool let me have a taste - it was the most moist cake (a huge mark of success seeing as most cupcakeries dry out their cakes) and the cream cheese frosting was absolutely superb.
I did watch the love and care that went into each cupcake though...each one took at least two minutes and involved expert style. They also had a banana cake with the same cream cheese frosting and I only barely resisted the temptation to get a slice...ok well, in reality, I saw the couple in front of me order a slice and figured they would not finish it...and yes, when they had clearly had their fill, I asked if I could try a bite....I have no shame. (And it was totally worth it!)

The rest of the day consisted of more strolling through markets perfect for picking up little gifts for friends and sampling even more sugar-inspired treats.  Luckily, near Union Square, the Burger House was serving up samples of their burgers right on the side I got some protein in the mix too:)
After all of this, I met up with a couple of other friends and we all went to see The Houston Ballet perform at the Joyce, this was the original purpose of our trip in the first place. It was a great program to end a great day.
Of course, there were a few drinks at Brother Jimmy's BBQ afterwards and then I was on the 1:30 a.m. bus back to Boston.
Why did I leave in the middle of the night?
Well, because I absolutely could not miss out on the 1st Anniversary of the Boston Brunchers hosted by Island Creek Oyster Bar! After a full day of strolling and a pretty uncomfortable night on a bus, being welcomed by a basket full of warm house baked goods was just what I needed.
A fresh bagel with chive creamed cheese and delicious smoked salmon was a definite remedy...and the Bloody Mary with Clamato juice helped some too:)

It was a great weekend, made all the better by some much needed pampering...although next time I go to NY, maybe I should go for a longer period of time. I have been told of a thing called 'down time' and people say it can be quite enjoyable.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Teranga - a sound recommendation

No matter how many great places I go to eat, when someone asks me for a recommendation, I somehow manage to find myself at a loss for suggestions.  When put on the spot, I draw a blank - and it is not for want of good places to eat in Boston!
Having thought about this recurring situation, I have decided to have a few fall back options that I feel strongly will deliver a good, satisfying meal and experience.  Teranga is one such restaurant, and I have in fact suggested it to quite a few people in the past few weeks.
Located right on the corner of Washington and Mass Ave, this restaurant is Boston's first Senegalese restaurant. Marie-Claude, the Chef/owner does a fabulous job with an interior that really takes you away from the bustle of everyday Boston life with bright, traditional colours and a fabulous African inspired menu.
A friend of mine and I went a while ago and I have been wanting to go back every since!
We started off with some Accara, pictured above, which are seasoned black eyed pea fritters, accompanied with a tomato-onion sauce that is both sweet and tangy. This appetizer was perfectly fried with not too much batter. It set our palettes for the rest of the meal.
We also ordered some fruit juices that made for a nice change from usual cocktails or wine.

We ordered two different appetizers and shared. Up first were their Chicken skewers served in another intriguing tangy seasoning. A huge bonus to this dish was its accompaniement of fried sweet plantains which are honestly, one my hugest weaknesses.  A hint of onion and siracha added kick and complexity.

Our other choice was their National Dish, the ThiĆ©bou Djeun - herb-stuffed white fish, cooked in tomato stew with 'broken' jasmine rice.  As you can see, the rice itself is cooked in a tomato-based broth that gives it a suggested flavor so complimentary to the other aspects of the meal. Vegetables, which most often come as an afterthought, were actually my favorite part  We had big chunks of cassava (yucca), cauliflower, carrots and pumpkin, all stewed to perfection.
Although the fish was a little dry, everything else was expertly cooked and assembled.
I would love to go back and try the other dishes on their menu...or even to explore their brunch or vegetarian menu...
Until I can get myself there though, I will just have to live vicariously through others;)

Sunday, October 9, 2011

A 'tour' de force!

There are many different tours going on around Boston's various neighborhoods.  As summer has drawn to a close, I really wanted to get one more good one in before the weather shifts for good. I was presented with a perfect opportunity this Saturday as Audrey, Founder of Boston Food Finds and dear food blogging friend of mine, invited me to join in on her Back Bay/Beacon Hill tour.
It was a perfect, perfect day for a walking tour and I had the best time! Here is a stop by stop itinerary...I got a bit picture happy...

Our first stop after a brief introduction was Scampo at the Liberty Hotel.  Talk about starting off strong! Scampo, whichs means 'escape' in italian, is one of Lydia Shire's most famous restaurants...and little wonder why. Everyone is so invested in their work there and the food...well, it set the bar pretty high!

Once we had all introduced ourselves, we were greeted by practically all the staff and given a tour of the space. There were only six of us altogether, so we were actually taken into the back kitchen, where chefs were chopping away at huge cuts of meat, making sauces and the like. It really smelt amazing and I would have been happy to be a fly on the wall for a while..we were also shown the outdoor patio where they apparently have a doggy day care Wednesday.. 
Due to our small size, we all fit comfotably around the chef's table overlooking the brick oven and the tandoori oven.  Our first course was their potato and chestnut gnocchi which, as stated by one of our fellow tour-ers, should be renamed something along the lines of 'pillows of sweet serenity'.  Topped with brown sugar, sage and sliced, crispy chestnuts, this dish was probably one of the tastiest things I have eaten in a while...and to think that this is the very first stop Audrey organised for us!

Next, Chef Simon Restrepo, put together a fabulous Lobster pizza, which, consequently, was voted The best pizza in Massachusetts! Small wonder why, this baby was cooked to a perfect crispness, topped with a delicious, cheesey, creamy sauce with chunks of juicy lobster and other herbs. It too, went down a treat and left the other guests and myself really wanting more:)

Our next stop delivered just as well, but from another angle. Beacon Hill Chocolates welcomed us with their international selection of chocolates and confectionnary and we were all given samples of their milk chocolate ganache, a chili and lime chocolate and a piece of dark chocolate.  The highlight of course was our choice of a smore's on a stick, or a brownie pop. I went for the later...and have not, as of yet, indulged in it:) (I had to leave something for later!)

Our tour was then taken through the Public Gardens and on such a lovely day, this interlude was a nice treat...a non-culinary one too!

Out of the park we went straight to Bacco's Wine and Cheese, a ten month old provision store sourced from local and international culinary artisans. 

In here, after a brief exploration of their unique goodies, Bob Bacco (owner) gave us a mini wine and cheese tasting with some delicious macaroons and introduced us to some of his special ideas.  My favorite was his version of a 'bento-box'.  It comes at 7.50 and offers a serving of Iggy's fresh baguette with a daily selection of salumi and cheese and whatever antipasti has just been made that very morning. What a delicious idea to take out for a lounge in the park, or a nice european-style snack during the day!

Newbury street's Sabatino and Co was our next stop. In here we were presented with infused olive oils, truffle oil honeys, infused salts and sugars and some of the most delectable spreads.  The communal favorite was their pistachio spread which, coming in a very intersting pale green, creamy color, tasted like a sweet but hearty nutella. I had a couple spoonfuls of that one:)

You may wonder at this point how we can fit so many different things without getting uncomfortably full. Well, this is the genius behind Audrey's tours.  The key word would be 'walking' and in case you have not kept track, we have already walked all the way from Liberty Hotel, along Charles Street, through the Public Gardens and, by the second to last stop, found ourselves at Turner Fisheries in the Back Bay. The reason behind this stop? Their award winning Clam Chowder.  I know, you are probably thinking that this is what all seafood restaurants call their clam chowder. However, at Turner Fisheries, their clam chowder is so good, that they were asked to no longer participate in the annual clam chowder contest...seeing as they kept winning!
My verdict? The consistency, the big, meaty clams, boiled poattoes and salty crackers made for a mighty fine clam chowder to me:)

Finally, after much walking, chatting and chomping, we made it to our final destination...Sweet Cupcakes.  Here, we were actually able to pick out our cupcake preference.  I went for their seasonal Pumpkin cupcake with cream cheese was delicious. We were also offered a take home box...which I politely declined as I somehow managed to find some extra stomach space for my cupcake.

My experience of Boston Food Finds walking tour has been a long time in the making, but I can now say with utter confidence that the wait was worth it. I highly recommend it to visitors to the area and to locals, as I myself found some interesting new places that I had either not heard of, or never been in. Audrey is a delight as she has created personal  ties with every spot on the tour and looks to create new friendships with all of her guests.
Boston Food Finds is a gem in itself!

Thursday, October 6, 2011

A midday, mid-week treat:)

As far as days of the week go, Thursdays are really not bad - you have passed the worst, and the comfort in knowing that Friday is litterally around the corner, is usually enough fuel to get you through. Most often though, a little something special is appreciated...any day of the week.
This Thursday, at the Boston BalletPretzel Crisps hosted a 'snack break' in the dancers' lounge for all employees to enjoy.

This is a great initiative Pretzel Chips has taken on board as part of their markerting campaign and Boston Ballet has been among many other lucky companies to be treated to some healthy pretzels paired with other deli condiments like Hummus, salsa, guacamole and cheese...all great things!

Lisa, our hostess, was great and set everything up nice and simple, showcasing the different flavours up for sampling. We were lucky enough to have five different flavours: original, sesame, parmesan garlic, everything and (my surprising favorite) buffalo wing. I especially enjoyed the buffalo wing paired with guac and salsa....interesting combination, n'est-ce pas?
Although the presentation was great, it did not last long as once 2 30 struck,  the dancers descended and...well, the bowls of pretzels didn't last long. Romeo and Juliet rehearsals really work up an appetite:)
I am just happy I got to take a few snap shots of this fabulous treat, which we all enjoyed and which personally got me through the rest of my day!
Thanks to Boston Ballet and Pretzel Chips for setting us all up with some salty goodness on a Thursday!