Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Husk, Pralines and Black Magic

 Every now and then, you go on a vacation in which all the stars seem to be aligned: the weather is perfect, you are with a great mix of people and by the end of the trip, you find it excessively difficult to return to 'real life'.
This past week, Folly Beach, located 20 minutes away from Downtown Charleston, SC was the destination for myself and about 30 other people.  We were celebrating a variety of different things; a couple of people's birthdays, the end of a long season for us dancers and simply an opportunity to reconnect with friends.
Although a large percentage of the trip's most memorable moments I did not manage to get immortalized on my camera, below are a few things that did:)
I could not have ventured all the way to Charleston without a visit to Husk in Downtown Charleston.  Voted America's Best New Restaurant by Bon Appetit, 2011, it was a must try. 
A beautiful brick house with Southern Comfort etched into all the details, it was an impressive lunch. Luckily, I was among some other foodie friends and we got to try pretty much everything on the menu.  I  particularly loved their Buffalo Pig Ear lettuce wraps with sweet vinegar marinated cucumbers as well as their pork belly BBQ sandwich.

Their Catfish was particularly enjoyable and reminded me of a similar dish I had right here in Boston at Hungry Mother.

The Wagyu sirloin (pictured above) and the Park Bacon Steak were also among my favorites. Less enjoyable was, surprisingly, their Shrimp and Grits which many of us found bland. Desserts were also underwhelming.
Still, it was a great lunch among friends, both old and new - a nice way to start out our extravaganza:)
 Most of the days were spent baking in the sun on Folly Beach, but a group of us did venture into town to check out the market.  I, naturally, was largely interested in the Southern treats.  I could not resist a big, pecan praline, which I got warm and fresh out of the factory.
 Sugar coated nuts are also traditional and a package of those made it back to Boston with me.
In all the heat, my girls and I could not resist a fro-yo stop.  Although the yogurt itself had nothing on Pinkberry, the toppings were out of this world and self-serve too:)

There were a great many things to be tasted and tried in Charleston and a relatively small amount of time.  However, I must say that what I will miss the most, are the late morning meet ups at Black Magic - a quirky and quaint coffee shop off the main road in Folly. Suffice it to say that our nights were dressed with party buses, bars and clubs and Carly Rae's 'Call me Maybe'. Recapping over coffee, baked goods and sandwiches was a must:)
This trip really had it all - what a great way to start off my summer vacation!

Monday, May 21, 2012

End of Season Pampering:)

 On Sunday, 20th of May, we officially brought our 2011-2012 season to a close at Boston Ballet with the final performance of Fancy Free. The end of a season always feels like the end of an era as we put a whole year's hard work to rest and say goodbye to those who are leaving.
It is both happy and sad, but always highly anticipated.  As with many highly anticipated things, once they arrive, it is difficult to get your head around the fact that what you have been waiting for has finally arrived.  For me, I still can't believe that we don't just have a couple days off, but an entire two months of rest and rejuvenation.
Sometimes you find yourself in somewhat of a stunned state, however this time around, a few of my friends and I were prepared. We planned ahead and booked ourselves an entire Spa Day at G20 Spa and Salon on Newbury.
I think I can safely say that it was the best thing we could have done. A whole day's worth of much needed pampering left us all in a daze of bliss....it was beautiful:)
 Some of you may wonder what on earth you would do at a spa for a whole day.  Well, at G20, the options are endless, most of us arrived around 11 am, went straight to their fantastic penthouse and fixed ourselves an espresso by the fireside, all cozy in our bath robes.
My friends mostly went for the facials, which is a great idea after all the stage make-up we have had to slather on our faces for the past 10 months.  I decided on a manicure and hair cut and dry...along with a considerable amount of time spent in their Brine Inhalation Room...(pictured above).
The latter is a fantastic room with a flowing fountain and an atmosphere that carries you straight to the salty ocean air. It is rejuvenating to the max and a golden opportunity to lay down and filter the lungs...pure bliss!

Of course, with all of this relaxation and rejuvenation, we needed to make sure we had ample supplies of fuel.  That was taken care of jointly by our gang, we had strawberries, chips and three layered hummus dip and...the most essential...bubbly:)
The peaceful, fresh and pink faces of my friends throughout the day were confirmation that we had hit the nail on its head with our spa day. It made all the strains (shhh...don't tell anyone I said that! Ballet is easy....effortless actually...;) ) of being a professional ballet dancer worth it.

After our physical pampering, we decided to make one more stop on our way home...and this stop naturally involved delicious tart and frozen yogurt from our favorite Pinkberry.
All in all, it was a day spent in heaven and the best part is...we are off to Charleston, SC tomorrow for a week and we are all dolled up and ready for the beach:)

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Craft Beer and Dessert Tasting

About once a month, Chef Nicole Coady, Head Pastry chef at Finale (aka, dessert guru), comes up with a theme for a dessert and alcohol tasting.  Although  many people do not equate alcohol such as wine and beer as being excellent pairings with desserts, one of these classes will quickly open your eyes to the wonderful possibilities just waiting to be explored!
I have been lucky enough to attend a few of Chef Nicole's dessert and wine samplings and have learnt a thing or two about what makes a good dessert and how wine can make it even better.  This past Tuesday, I attended an especially interesting evening featuring Craft Beer.
These tastings are always set up in a similar fashion, tables according to people's reservations are set up and adorned with five, sample-sized glasses all paired with a sample-sized dessert. A month in advance, Chef Nicole sits down with her team and creates an inspired, five-course sampling menu. This time around, Nicole was joined by Brian, one of Boston's Craft Beer representatives, in creating a menu that would highlight the desserts and the beers.

Chef Nicole welcomes everyone and heads straight into the first pairing.  As you can see from the visual above, each dessert, though bite-sized, is a beautiful replica of their full size desserts - there is no skimping out here! Even the garnishes represent the traditional, artistic desserts that come out of Finale's kitchens.

Of the beers, my favorite was the first - an Oringinal Sin Cider..ok, so maybe that's cheating because it is in fact a hard cider...but I just love it! This one was light and crisp and paired so well and elegantly with Nicole's frangipane tart.
I was not a huge fan of the Duvel (means Devil in Dutch!) Golden Ale by iteslf, but once you had it followed with a bite of the fruit tart pictured above, it was really quite enjoyable. That is the magic of a good pairing, the tastes complement eachother and you end up enjoying both even more:)

My absolute favorite dessert was the Chocolate Peanut Butter Cupcake..I mean look at that frosting! Some people do not love frosting - but when it is peanut butter...I am all for the extra dollop:)
This was paired with the darkest beer, an Ayinger Celebrator Doppelbock;) What a name!
I actually surprised myself and really liked it - again, the excellent choice of pairing is probably largely responsible.
At these events, you leave with a slight sugar high, but nothing uncomfortable as the sizes and quality of ingredients are spot on.  Nicole's knowledge is inspiring and yet she manages to share it in an unassuming manner that makes everyone feel included.
I am already excited to see what she whips up at her next tasting in June - the Sorbet and Gelato pairing:)
Information will be up shortly on their website, or better yet - always be in the know by joining their mailing list!

Thursday, May 10, 2012

The best of both worlds

Being a professional ballet dancer is no easy feat. It is physically and mentally grueling, painful and all the while, you have to look like it is the easiest thing in the world.  This being said, I cannot think of any other profession that would bring the same amount of satisfaction, joy and passion to our lives.
In other words, it can be described as a profession with pretty high demands, but invaluable rewards.
Now, even though this is all very true for me, there are those days when you just need a little something extra to help you through the long hours of rehearsal, or that evening's performance.  Some dancers boost their caffeine reserves, others invest in a jug of coconut water. 
I have always been on the look out for my remedy and then, out of the blue, a friend introduced me to Coco Cafe, a product that mixes both the hydration and potassium from coconut water, with a caffeinated boost from espresso...I know! How could this be possible? It probably does not taste very good, right? WRONG! Coco cafe is a delicious latte-esque beverage,  that could just be what many of us have been waiting for.
I was quickly put in touch with the makers, Brian and Elan, of a team of two young men who developed the product while surfing out in Santa Monica.  Just as dancers might need some natural energy and hydration, so did those surfers. Brian was kind enough to stop by the ballet one rainy Tuesday and drop off a couple of crates for us to try out...Suffice it to say, they were a hit!
Dancers had them on the go while they were working out....
and getting changed...
something about the delicious taste, combined with the knowledge that you are being totally efficient while drinking the product is a catch.

We are just about finished our 2011/2012 season at the ballet, Don Quixote was wrapped up last weekend and tonight we open Fancy Free:)
I foresee some habits forming around Coco Cafe, and with a delicious product with an environmental and humanitarian conscience ( proceeds from Coco Cafe are dedicated towards improving the nutrition of underdeveloped urban youth), I cannot think of a better one to invest in!
Coco Cafe just recently became available in stores around Boston - enjoy:)

Monday, May 7, 2012

Keep an eye out for Food Trucks popping up here, there and everywhere!

 Along with the soon-to-be regular summer weather, the city of Boston is starting to get its Food Truck act together.  With multiple locations city-wide that have a daily rotation of food trucks parked and serving up all sorts of goodies, this summer you can expect a few festivals that bring together hoards of these inventive and delicious meals on wheels.
 This weekend, there was a Food Truck kick-off with the Greenway Mobile Food Festival.  At Dewey Square, from 11:30 to 7 pm, an array of food truck and food cart teams were interspersed around the Park.  I managed to make it for a quick fix in between my two shows of Don Quixote on Saturday:)  

Having just tried the culinary innovation behind Mei Mei and Staff Meal last week, I was excited to expand my food truck experience.  The best thing about such a festival, is that you have all these great options side by side:)

This time, my friend and I went for Bon Me, one of the original Bostonian food trucks. 

It is known for its delicious take on traditional Vietnamese street food, most notably, the Bahn Mi sandwich. 

 Bon Me's Bahn Mi is huge, both in size and, most importantly, flavor! For 6 dollars, you get a gigantic, crusty baguette, stuffed with pickled vegetables, your choice of protein (we went for their Chinese BBQ pork), house-made spicy mayo, cilantro and house-made pate.  It was definitely as delicious as all the hype made it out to be:)

We also tried their Buckwheat Soba Noodles this time with their organic tofu and shitake mushroom and sesame vinaigrette. Fresh, light, but filling, this salad is another solid option Bon Me has to offer.

For something sweet, my friend went to the Froyo Truck, I enjoyed a delicious take on strawberry shortcake, with basil creme fraiche from The Dining Car.
It was exactly what I needed to finish off a great meal before heading back to the Opera House for our evening performance:)
With a quickly expanding Food Truck population in Boston, I am especially excited for the upcoming Food Truck Festivals of New England.  Starting June 10th with the Boston festival at UMass, there will be 11 such events taking place all around New England.
An entry ticket gets you in to experience about 50 different food trucks - buy a VIP ticket (limited quantity) and you get in an hour early:)
I am already counting down the days - are you?

Friday, May 4, 2012

Boston heats things up for Cinco de Mayo

 May is an exciting month, people have generally been out of hibernation for at least a couple of weeks and summer is just around the corner (we hope!).  Of course, there is another cause for excitement and that is the traditional celebration of Mexican heritage and pride, Cinco de Mayo.
All across the United States and regionally in Mexico, festivities commemorating a number of various triumphs from the cause of freedom and democracy during the American Civil War to the defeat of the French by the Mexican Army on May 5, 1862. (Yes...I did my homework:) )
Of course, for many of us, Cinco de Mayo is also an opportunity to bring people together to enjoy delicious Mexican inspired menus, cropping up in restaurants all over. 
 I, myself, ventured over to Church in Fenway for their 'Cinco de Mayo' celebration on Tuesday.  So it wasn't exactly the right date, but the menu, developed by Chef Jonathan Gilman was certainly spot on.  This was my first time actually eating here and all the rave reviews I had heard turned out to be true.

 Apart from the first dish, a Chile relleno with hominy and mango, which I found a bit dry, all the other courses were absolutely delicious.  I was completely blown away by their Acadian redfish ceviche, fresh and light with prickly cactus pear slaw and their 'carnitas style' suckling pig, which was probably the most moist, fall of the bone mean I have had in a while. I could have eaten about three more of these dishes.

The show stealer was perhaps the 4th course, a wagyu carne asada, which arrived perfectly pink with a salty and tasty seared outside.  Street corner, always a favorite of mine was a great accompaniment with a delicious avocado salsa verde.  
I was especially happy when the dessert arrived, a take on a 'choco-taco', made with dark Taza chocolate, candied chili mousse and strawberry rhubarb pico.  
With each dish paired with a tequila, the menu was festive, creative and daring and admirably executed. I can't wait to go back and try their regular menu.
Of course, Cinco de Mayo is just around the corner and so you all have a chance to enjoy something festive and delicious.  Even places you may not expect are turning up the Mexican heat - try The Barking Crab and Common Ground Bar and Grill for Cinco de Mayo themed apps and drinks...or a bucket of Corona:)  Some, like El Centro in the South End, are really going wild with special appetizers served 'gratis' through lunch and dinner, or Masa, with live music from 10:30 p.m onwards and special menu items all day long.  For something with more a 'buzz', join top bartenders from around Boston from 2 till 4 p.m. at Lolita Cocina for a Margarita-off - and reap the benefits:)

It would be a shame to pass up this opportunity to hone in on the Mexican flare everyone has inside of them - and it will not be for lack of options!
Where will you be this Cinco de Mayo?