Monday, October 29, 2012

Perfect Fuel for perfect energy:)

We made it through our opening week of the 2012-2013 season!!  
The first week of shows is always the hardest because leading up to it we are in the theater all day long doing tedious techs and run-throughs as we get the last minute details in order.  Once we make it to Sunday, we are all hanging on by a thread and T-I-R-E-D!
Thankfully, there are a few little things that can help us along in these moments of exhaustion.  Coco Cafe is one product which can help give that extra boost and in fact, one of my fellow dancers had one by her side throughout the Sunday show:)
 A more recent discovery for me is Perfect Fuel Chocolate.  For those of you who are unfamiliar with this product, it is a cube of 74 % raw cacao and ginseng. 
Come again? 
Rephrase: it is a cube of very dark chocolate enriched with a type of perennial plant with proven health benefits..aka ginseng:) 
I had seen these little guys in various stores and marketplaces around town for about a year now and was actually introduced to them by a former dancer of the Boston Ballet who used to eat them during the intermissions of a particularly daunting ballet. (ahem, Don Quixote!)
You can imagine how excited I was when a friend of mine introduced me to one of his training buddies...who happens to be Nicolas Warren, the CEO and founder of Perfect Fuel just last week...a few days before we went into the theater! 
We were at a lovely wine and cheese hosted by Nicolas and his wife and I was able to pick his brain about the fascinating process and benefits derived from his product.  In each Perfect Fuel bar,  there is a serving of enough organic cacao to provide sustained, long lasting energy - just the kind of thing I was looking for:)  Perfect Fuel is also high in antioxidants and has no refined sugar.
 As for the taste, if you like dark chocolate, you will LOVE these bars.  I myself am a huge fan, however, if I don't feel like I can handle the concentrated taste of 74 % dark chocolate, I conveniently have a bag of high energy treats that I can mix it in with.  It just so happens that Perfect Fuel bars are the 'Perfect' addition to any trail mix:)
Whether you are a high level athlete, a performer or just need a boost at some point during the day, Perfect Fuel bars are an excellent option.  They provide a small, tasty and all-natural dose of sustained energy, so you won't get the usual crash that comes after most energy supplements on the market.
I can tell these bars will become an increasingly important part of my diet regimen at the theater and just in time for our performance season too:) 
Lucky for those of you who missed out on our performances this week, we are doing one more weekend of shows starting next Thursday - and you can bet we will have tons of energy:)

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Two Chefs and a Microphone - Urban Grape

For those of you who have read my post on the new and exciting opening of the South End's very own Urban Grape, you may recall a mention of popups and other events being held in this great space.
Having been open for just under a month in this location, (The Urban Grape has an original space in Chestnut Hill) TJ and Hadley, the power couple behind this wine store, wasted no time in hosting their christening popup dinner. 

On this particular Sunday, the new store was turned into a conceptual popup dinner, 'Two Chefs and  a Microphone'.  As the title suggests, two of Boston's great chefs were on hand for the evening, Chef Michael Scelfo from Russell House Tavern and the two Seths from The Gallows.  They were given a limited list of ingredients and instructed to go head to head in a battle of old school vs. new school (respectively).  
A five course menu was prepared by each and each course was paired with a wine, beer or whiskey decided on by TJ.
Here is what the two chefs came up with: 
The first dish was centered around the 'oyster'.  Team new school (The Gallows) presented an incredible concoction: Oysters 'Kennedy' with spinach, lobster aioli, Irish Whisky and Cape Cod potato Chips. It was paired with a Pinot Blanc from Napa Valley (Robert Foley)
I could have eaten five of these...easily. It was such an incredible combination of flavors and crunch, without being overwhelming.

Chef Michael, representing the old school, presented us with a classic ICO oyster with wood smoked cocktail sauce, brambly bacon and sea bean mignonette.  It was paired with a nice sparkling Gruner from Australia (Punkt).
Although I usually side with the bacon, team new school won this first course.

Before the second course came out, I meandered around the store and grabbed a peak at the chefs in action just by the check out station. Micheal was busy preparing a delicious cheddar biscuit.
 I loved that the dinner was a mingling event and not a rigid sit down affair...this way, you could make your way around the store, check out the many different wines, beers and sakes and best of all, sample their progressive rating scale at their tasting station:)

For the second course, new school prepared a shot of pumpkin chowder with corn, ham and common crackers, paired with a double pumpkin ale from Sam Adams.  I liked the pairing, and the soup was interesting, but I would have preferred more of a pumpkin taste.
Chef Micheal for his part, presented a delicious torched delicata squash with a clothbound cheddar biscuit.  Anything with a biscuit is fine by me and this one did not disappoint. Paired with  a Domaines Schlumberger Pinot Gris (Alsace), it was a great come back by team old school.
The next course was charcuterie theme; a strength for both restaurants.  The Gallows made a delicious blue fish pate with a fantastic apple-horseradish on brioche toast. This time it was paired with an Ehlers Estate Rose.
Russell House came out with a warm roasted Char belly with bone marrow brioche, red wine and pickled oinion jam. TJ decided to pair this one with what he called an 'industry wine', an Occhipinti 'Il Frappato' Frappoto from Sicily. 
Both courses were surprises there;)

For the main savory course, Chef Micheal presented heaping dishes of duck fat braised pork neck (what a mouthful!) over a bed of herbed white beans and crispy chard was served family-style which made me very happy and I will admit that I went back for seconds...and thirds:)
It was paired with Le Macchiole Bolgheri Rosso, a red from Italy.
Unfortunately, I was somehow duped out of the savory course from the Gallows...I had my hands on one, put it down for a second and it sneaked away from me. Thankfully, Seth noticed and brought me a special plate of their New England baked beans, which were delicious and smokey:) 

For dessert, Team New School did a play on an apple tart with brick cheese and a tiny scoop of ice cream.  It was a bite-sized perfection and I definitely wanted more. It was paired with a Willet 'Pot Still Reserve' Bourbon Whiskey.  I am not quite at the point where I enjoy such strong drinks...but I can understand the appeal on a cold winter's day.

Chef Micheal presented a testament to the old school with a cheese and apple plate with prune and honey jam.  Again, I could have done with a few helpings of this..I just love, love, love cheese!
Also paired with a Whisky, this time a Scotch Whisky, Glenmorangie from Scotland (aged 12 years).
With such a great concept, team and DJ (yes, there was an evening long mash up between old and new), it is no surprise the evening was a smashing success and a preview of many more exciting things to come.  Sign up for The Urban Grape's newsletter or follow them on twitter for upcoming events:)

Monday, October 22, 2012

A Catalyst Sunday

Last Sunday was special for two reasons.  Number one, it was the last free Sunday before we switch over to our performing schedule with Boston Ballet.  Once we open our Fall Program this coming Thursday (25th of October) and kick off our performing season in Boston, regular weekends are long gone.  Number two, I made it to another brunch with the fabulous Boston Brunchers, making it two in a row:)
Last month, I went on a Mexican brunch adventure with the team at The Painted Burro in Davis Square.  This time around, still on the Cambridge side of the river, we tried out Catalyst.

I had been to Catalyst for events, so I knew just how beautiful the space was and had tried some of their dinner menu items, but their brunch was new to me - and a quick look over their brunch menu the evening before convinced me that my Sunday was going to be extra special.
As is my usual custom at these brunches, I arrive with a grumbling tummy and am quick to suggest we order some shareable dishes.  It seemed like the menu at Catalyst was made for just this and soon after our party was seated, an order of chocolate chip scones with a dulce de leche sauce and a skillet coffee cake were put in.

I realize it is a fairly basic and standard breakfast item that some people may turn their noses up at when eating out at a restaurant, but these baked goods were absolutely delicious.  The chocolate chip scones were crumbly and coated in a light sugar on the outside with a moist and dense, chocolate chippy inside...and the dulce de leche sauce was a nice twist.  The coffee cake was served in a hot skillet; a brown sugared crumble topping and another moist, but this time light and fluffy inside.  
Both got our taste buds ready for the rest of the meal.
Another custom I indulge in when out to brunch with the brunchers is what Renee and I like to call, 'splitsville' or 'sharsies'.  Much like how it sounds, we end up teaming up in order to try as much as we can off of the menu, without being redundant.
I took responsibility for the poached farm egg atop a tournedo of beef, on a bed of grits.  This was the dish I had had my eye on since I first saw the menu, and it ended up being my favorite dish at the table.  The beef was just the right portion, tender, juicy and full of flavor.  The egg was beautiful and the grits...oh the grits! They were somehow better than any I had while I was in Charleston SC this past summer...

The other dishes we got were egg dishes; the goat cheese and mushroom omelette and the chicken fritatta.  Both good, solid brunch plates, but they had nothing on the tournedo fandango mentioned above.  
A side dish I was really in love with was their pork belly potato hash.
This number was also served in a pipping hot skillet (I just love things served in skillets..oh and anything with pork belly), the potatoes cooked in you can imagine how flavorful they were:) 
As a group of about 10 food enthusiasts, we did a pretty good job covering everything on the menu.  We got their panko-crusted french toast for everyone to nibble on and although it was tasty, I would have preferred a little less panko and a little more bread. That said, the bourbon whipped butter was a divine accompaniment.
Catalyst is a great place to go for a humble brunch well done.  Going with the brunchers is always a lovely experience and I always look forward to trying new things with people who love food as much as I do.
I am sad to be missing out on the upcoming brunches...but I am proud to say that a group of brunchers will actually be making an outing to the Opening Night of the Fall program - so it won't be too long before I see them again:)

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

An enlightening evening at Perkins School for the Blind

It is incredibly easy to take things for granted.  When put under a certain perspective, even the most mundane thing can become a miracle.  This is one of the thoughts that struck me when I attended the Taste of Perkins event at Perkins School for the Blind a couple of weeks ago.
Established in 1832, Perkins has been a leader in educating and supporting the blind.  The Taste of Perkins event, which is now held every year, is a phenomenal evening of exploring a world that many of us don't think about very often, a world without sight.
Although this may sound bleak, the incredible minds at Perkins have engineered a vast array of hi-tech products which give people who are blind access to everything.  From 'talk to text' programs that translate books and journals, to verbalized science experiments, the sky is the limit.  This was what made the evening so special.  Perkins is all about teaching their students to be courageous, take risks and live life to the fullest!
A silent auction and a raffle were also on the agenda for the evening and Hors D'oeuvres were served all throughout.  However, my absolute favorite part, was the blind tasting.

(photo credit - Randy H. Goodman)
This part of the soiree took place in a beautiful concert room (did I mention just how beautiful the campus is!? It was like being in Harry Potter;) ).  What made the room really special were the students who were playing beautiful piano pieces for the guests.
(photo credit - Liz Looker - eating places)
So how did it work exactly? Well, you were blindfolded as soon as you stepped into the room and a volunteer would guide you to your seat. It is truly amazing how much your other senses will perk up once your sight has become compromised.  Just walking to the table I felt like my ears were growing in size...and working twice as hard!
Once seated, we were given a red and a white wine to taste.  I was very impressed when Renee announced that the White was a palette is not quite there yet:)
(photo credit - Liz Looker - eating places)

Next we were given a plate with four different items.  Going from our left to right, we were instructed to eat the bite-sized food and try to guess what we were eating.
Again, as with my hearing, my taste buds were abloom as soon as I put something in my mouth.  I was very proud to have guessed the nature of the first item (on the skewer), which was a ginger pickled beet.  
The second number was a Japanese dumpling with a chicken broth and mushroom filling.  We all got it was a dumpling, but the filling evaded us slightly.  What was incredible was watching some of the Perkins students themselves taking the taste test.  One little boy chewed on the pickled beet for about 2 seconds before promptly announcing that it was a ginger pickled beet....he could not have been more spot on!
The third item was my favorite and really had my taste buds in a twist.  It was a mix between a marshmallow and a meringue with a lemon topping.  It was soooo good! 
Finally, we had a dark-chocolate covered, salted caramel. Again, Renee had this one in a heartbeat - we do love our sweets:)

(photo credit - Randy H. Goodman)
When you are blindfolded, you are so much more aware of what your other senses are feeling...your taste buds are literally having a party! Once the blindfold had been taken away, it took a couple of seconds for the world to come back into focus, but once it did, I was so much more appreciative of being able to use my sight to aid in everything I do.
This, I think, was part of the magic of the event.  Not only did it show me that students without sight can be just as able-bodied, independent and successful as those of us with perfect vision, but it also made me appreciate what I take for granted every day - the ability to see and observe the world around me.
Perkins School for the Blind is a very special place that will remain an institution and leader in the field for years and years.  I am so happy I got to visit and learn more about it - there are many ways to support these students, including volunteering.  All can be viewed here.
If nothing else, it is worth a trip just to wander around the campus and learn a bit more about what is possible when you put your mind to it!

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Bos vs. NY - Food Truck Edition

 Another beautiful fall weekend...another fantastic food festival (we have been so spoiled this month)!
This Saturday, the Greenway, which was the host of last Sunday's Boston Local Food Festival, transformed itself into yet another great space for a pop-up food festival, this time featuring the Food Truck Throwdown.
  Born from the power couple combination of  Sarah Ross, owner and founder of Kickass Cupcakes and the team behind Jet Blue, Dewey Square was transformed into a food truck extravaganza from 11-9 with some of the best food trucks from Boston and New York battling for their city's bragging rights in various categories.
 As usual, any event involving food trucks has me in a dither of excitement and I got to the Greenway nice and early so I could spend some quiet time chatting with some of the owners, managers and workers on the trucks. It was great to see some of my fave food truckies (ahem...mei mei-best vegetarian, Staff Meal- best savoury item and Bon Me- best asian), and it was especially exciting to meet some of the out-of towners!

The infamous Wafels and Dinges truck was there, with a bit of a chip on their shoulder from being one of the first food trucks in the country (Oct. 2007 marks the month and year of their first truck on the corner of Broadway and SoHo in NYC).  They did win best crew though...maybe it was the matching hats?
 I really loved the team and the artisan hand-held empanadas popping fresh out of the ovens at Nuchas.  These guys started as a cart in Times Square and after winning a contest, were awarded a food truck license and permit...which they effectively took on with zeal:)
I absolutely loved their Argentine, a special ground beef with onions, pepper and scallions...but their short rib  empanada, braised in red wine and rolled in rosemary dough took the proverbial cake.
I was also treated to a seasonal apple, cranberry and nutella dessert empanada that came straight out of their oven...what can I say? New York, I love you:)

Also of note from NY was the Munch Mobile, serving Williamsburg late night...think delicious grilled cheese renditions and burgers:)
Mike 'n' Willie's was another solid appearance with tasty tacos and a fantastic Big Bad Brisket slider (complete with crispy onions and smothered in a delicious BBQ sauce).
 Of course, I could not pass up the opportunity to swing by some of my Boston faves, Roxy's Grilled Cheese were being particularly sinful with their Mighty Rib Melt and their bacony Green Muenster (applewood bacon and homemade guacamole.) 
Oh...and they won best truck design...just fyi:)

The trio of siblings at mei mei always have something special up their sleeves, today it was a foie gras rangoon and a ginger macaron with maple bourbon buttercream (oo-er).  With their pork inspired menu, they actually ended up wining the best vegetarian off the charts kale salad.  I did not go for it this time, but have had it in the past...I totally get it:)

 On the sweet side of things, my favorite by far was The Cookie Monstah Truck, fresh batch, from scratch cookies and delicious creamy ice cream (enter ice cream sandwiches).  I started with a classic chocolate chip cookie paired beautifully with a salted caramel hot chocolate and was so convinced that I dragged my friend back later on in the day...
Unfortunately, I did not get to try their famous apple crisp recipe...or their many different flavors of ice cream...but I had to leave something for another visit!

 By the time all of this had been tasted and tried, the lines were really starting to grow and my stomach had little room left for more. 
I made my way to the voting booth and cast my quarter (all proceeds go towards the food pantry of the winning city's choice).
I don't think there is much of a question as to which city I voted heart is so invested with the Boston Food truck community.
That said, with nine awards, NY won 5 of them, and thus carried the cup...but the popular vote still went to Boston:)
All in all, I am happy to say that I have a much keener eye for which food trucks to look out for next time I am in NY...and given the performance of the NY 'stEATs', my cravings will surely be satisfied:)

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Experiencing Boston's local flavors on the Greenway

 This Sunday marked the third annual Boston Local Food Festival. I always look forward to this opportunity to be surrounded by delicious, local food from enthusiastic farmers and producers.  My anticipation this year had increased ten-fold because I was on their 2012 blogging team, busy promoting the various vendors and purveyors I so looked forward to meeting.
Due to the success and high turnout from the event last year, this time around, it was moved to the Greenway.  I am very glad it was; the mile long parkway separating the financial district from the Seaport was a perfect place for the numerous vendors, chef demos and live music venues.

We were lucky with the weather, having been dealt a beautiful fall day, even though it was a bit nippy.  Laura Weinstein from Cookie Lady Treats must have checked the weather beforehand and had come prepared with perhaps the best hot chocolate I have ever tasted....and yes, that includes L.A. Burdick's! (Gasp!) 
It was rich and decadent, but not too thick or sweet and best of all? It came topped with a homemade marshmallow, which melted into a delightful layer of thick, gooey sugar:) 

Hot chocolate in hand, my friend and I strolled leisurely around, tasting samples of this and that and catching snippets from some of Boston's most acclaimed chefs at their demo stations.  Jason Bond from Bondir was busy demonstrating the proper techniques of carving up big, complicated cuts of mutton meat. He somehow made it look so easy! 

It was also a pleasure bumping into Josh Lewin, head chef at Beacon Hill Bistro.  He had prepared a tasty parsnip soup with apple crumble and tiny tart berries.  It is so nice to see such enthusiasm and dedication to the local food movement.  Chef Lewin did a demo on foraging:)
All this strolling, tasting and chatting made us tired and we needed a caffeine boost...ok, well maybe this was not entirely the case, but after passing by Barismo and their single cup, pour-over was impossible to resist.  
The process is so detailed and precise making the finished product well worth the wait - dark, strong and somehow, not bitter. I admit, I ruined mine by adding too much cream...oh the sacrilege!

As usual, bakeries from outside of Boston make an appearance and I am always excited to see what Sofra Bakery has in store for us.  This year, we had apple butter biscuits and butternut squash tarts among other house-made delicacies.  Two of these also made it onto my itinerary:)
By around 2:30, the good weather had started to drizzle away and rain drops were becoming more and more frequent.  Seeing as my friend and I had only really been tasting and nibbling (sort of), we decided to take advantage of our proximity to Pasta Beach - reputed for having some of the best pasta in Boston.
With a reputation like that, we had to order a few different pasta dishes...just to be sure. We went for their Tagliatelle with duck and vegetable ragout (above), their Carbonara and their spaghetti with clams, olive oil, chili flakes and parsley.  The latter ended up being our favorite, as the first was a bit underwhelming sauce wise and the Carbonara lacked crispy bacon....but to be fair, the pasta itself was quite splendid.
All in all, it ended up being a perfect October Sunday, from the smell of autumn in the air to the crowd of people out enjoying both the city and the local food community. It is no wonder I get so excited for these festivals....they are far too few and far between!
Until next year?

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Gin 101 at the Boston Cocktail Summit

 It seemed like all kinds of festivals were going on around town this weekend in Boston.  From the  Boston Seafood festival to the Boston Local Food Festival (post to follow shortly), it has been a weekend jam packed with food related favorite:)
On top of all these things, this weekend was Boston's first ever Boston Cocktail Summit. From the kick off events on Thursday, to Saturday evening's After, After party at Citizen Public House, Boston was inundated with the best bartenders in America's beverage industries popping up here, there and everywhere to share their wealth of knowledge.

The Summit was clustered with Epic cocktail parties (ahem...The Thing), special events at restaurants all over town and informative seminars held at the Park Plaza.  The seminars had huge range, from morning after Retox to Detox, to Whiskey and Bourbon talks, all led by stars of the industry. 

Despite my busy weekend, I was able to make it to a couple of the parties as well as the 'Making Great Gin Drinks at Home' seminar led by Tony Abou-Ganim, aka, The Modern Mixologist.  
Our tables were all set up with an impressive cocktail making set, courtesy of Bombay Sapphire...we were about to mix some pretty tasty drinks:)

 For the next 2 hours, Tony took us on a detailed and thorough journey of some of the most quintessential Gin-based drinks.  We started with a refreshing Tom Collins, moved onto the Negroni (pictured above), which was my personal favorite. 
A perfect dry martini was next on the list, followed an Aviation and finally, a South Side cocktail. (A gin twist on your Mojito)  

Although my favorite was the Negroni; a mix of gin, campari and sweet vermouth, I must admit, that my absolute favorite thing were the Maraschino cherries that went into the Aviation drink (fresh lemon juice, simple syrup, gin, violette and marachino.  I think I lost count of how many of these little taste bombs I had...I could not help myself:)
By the end of the seminar, I felt much more in tune with the versatility of Gin, an alcohol I have only recently begun to really enjoy.  All throughout the seminar, Tony was a true entertainer, somehow turning any cocktail making tool or technique into something sultry and enticing... admittedly, this got a bit old towards the end... 
I learned and drank a lot, two things the Boston Cocktail Summit held in the highest regard.  The Summit was a wildfire success and one I hope will be repeated again soon.
For now, I would like to part with one of my favorite quotes from Tony:
'Never underestimate the power of a good garnish because a drink is only as good as its lowest denominator'
Somehow, I feel like this pearl can be applied in all aspects of life.
And on that note, cheers:)