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The pears at Quarry Hill Orchard have been amazing lately, and when we were on vacation recently we were served poached pears for breakfast at a bed and breakfast. I got to thinking of a way to poach pears in the delicious Raspberry Framboise that Quarry Hill Winery makes and sells.

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So a basket of pears and a bottle of framboise made a splendid and special dessert. I emptied the bottle of framboise into a small pan on the stove over medium heat and added two cinnamon sticks, two tablespoons of brown sugar and a dash of nutmeg. Once it started to reduce and turn syrupy I poured 2/3 of the liquid over pealed and halved pears in a glass baking dish.

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I covered the pears with foil and baked them for about a half hour at 350 degrees while the rest of the sauce continued to reduce on the stove. It turned thick and rich and tasted great over vanilla ice cream on the warm pears.

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We routed our entire return trip from Maine so that we could  have breakfast at The Blue Benn Diner.   The Blue Benn is no recreated, retro-styled silver bullet diner.  It dates back to the 1940s and has been on its current site along Route 7 since 1949.

We arrived on a Thursday morning about 9:00 am and were shown to a booth and given coffee and menus.  Luckily I remembered to check out all of the additional offerings not mentioned in the menu but hanging in plastic sleeves all along the counter.

Blue Benn Additional Menu Offerings

I ordered the Veggie Omelet which was served with home fries – I decided to let them hold the toast.  We left so satisfied we needed no other meal until we made it home the same day!

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I had an imaginary friend as a child – I am an only child, so I needed a friend. Matthew Dicks novel about a fragile young boy named Max is narrated by his imaginary friend, Budo, whose engaging and naive voice reminds me of Emma Donoghue’s narrator in Room. In fact, this novel bears comparison to both Room and The Lovely Bones. Budo knows when Max is in trouble, but as a imaginary friend he has limited powers in the real world. Much of the novel concerns how Max is treated by students and teachers when he is in school, and Dicks has created teacher heroes and teacher devils to drive this story. I loved that he had the good teacher reading The Tale of Despereaux in the last chapter. This book will definitely appeal to high school students and ring true with anyone who has ever imagined a friend.

P.S. My imaginary friend died with my tonsillectomy when I was five. Dicks and Budo agree many imaginary friends are present in hospitals and many don’t make it past kindergarten.

The Lobster Shacks

September 10th, 2012 | Posted by Lackey in Dining Out - (0 Comments)

Part of my unspoken objective for this vacation was to eat as much lobster, in as many different forms, as I could. Part of my pre-vacation preparation was an 18th birthday celebratory pedicure with my daughter where I chose the OPI polish color I Eat Mainely Lobster. I achieved my goal and forever put to rest the notion that The Red Lobster is a lobster restaurant. Locals in Massachusetts and Maine take their lobster seriously and have clear opinions about where to spend your money on this treat. Even though I read that lobster prices are lower than they have been for decades, and we did see it for sale wholesale along the road for as low as $3.95 a pound, it is still a delicacy when it is prepared for you. I had read extensively before we left about the specific locations of the best lobster shacks, and was extremely disappointed when we blew right past Red’s Eats in Wicasset – presumably home of the best lobster roll and evidenced by the long line of waiting patrons. We did, however, manage to visit three classic shacks that deserve description.

Mac’s On the Pier – Wellfleet, Massachusetts

Mac’s website proudly claims that they have been buying fresh seafood from Cape Cod fishing families since before buying local was in style. The three restaurants they run in Eastham, Wellfleet and Truro have a mission of quality, traceability and sustainability. We visited the Wellfleet Pier location for lunch on my birthday. Even though it was cloudy and drizzling a bit, there were diners sitting out under umbrellas at several of the picnic tables near the water.

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At Mac’s, you place your order at the window after selecting from a crazily extensive menu that even includes sushi. I wanted my first Cape Cod Lobster Roll and David ordered an Oyster Po’ Boy.

Wellfleet is known for its oysters and his sandwich roll came stuffed with lightly battered deep fried oysters and Mac’s homemade Poor Man’s sauce, which he described as a spicy aioli. My lobster meat was in a light mayonnaise dressing with chopped red onion and a bit of celery on a roll with lettuce. Yum!

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Our second visit was on our way out of Cape Cod. This time the sun was shining and we were going for fried food Nirvana. After asking on many occasions for fried oysters in Provincetown, we knew we could get them at Mac’s. One order of Fried Oysters, one order of Clam Strips (I swear I haven’t ordered them since Howard Johnson’s in my childhood) and – what the heck! – Onion Rings! A vegetable! With ketchup! Another vegetable! Three piles of crunchy brown food behind us, we headed to Maine and Boston rush hour traffic knowing we wouldn’t be hungry on the way.

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Waterman’s Beach Lobster – South Thomaston, Maine
Waterman’s is a Lobster Shack which the James Beard Foundation proclaimed “the quintessential Maine experience”. After settling into our Owl’s Head cabin, we put on sweatshirts ready to brave the breeze, brought a bottle of Truro Vineyards Unoaked Chardonnay and headed to the waterfront. The parking lot was packed and the front seating area of the shack spilling with 50th anniversary party guests, but a covered seating area behind the restaurant was out of the wind and away from the partiers.

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We ordered two 1 1/4 pound lobster dinners with steamers. We poured our wine into the provided plastic cups and admired the array of wine bottles left behind by previous diners on the railing surrounding us. Our waitress brought out two trays with 1 1/2 pound lobsters – extras from the party group at no extra charge – clams, clam broth, corn on the cob, a fresh roll, a plastic cup of melted butter and a bag of Lays potato chips.

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Although the clams were a bit sandy, the lobster was succulent and the dining experience “the real thing”. Plastic bib and all. Obviously locals eat here. There was a couple that sat down next to us and never spoke to each other once as they devoured their lobsters and washed them down with a six-pack of Pabst. We stayed until it was dark, eavesdropping on the drunken conversation of the anniversary party family as they divided up the leftover bottles of wine. James Beard may have had other clientele in mind, but these Mainers were as true blue as the blueberry pie they also served at Waterman’s!

Perry’s Lobster, Newbury Neck
Over breakfast at The Wave Walker Bed and Breakfast, our innkeeper, Donna, said she didn’t understand why anyone would drive to Bar Harbor to pay too-much money for lobster when they had the real deal three miles up the road.

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Perry buys directly from the boats of the lobstermen who catch in the waters directly beyond the seating dock.

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We were surprised to be shown to our picnic table with the direction that the seating on the end of the pier was reserved. From where I sat, I watched the live lobsters being lowered into the steaming – not boiling – pots of local sea water where the ears of corn and steamers were cooked as well. We decided to do a soft shell vs hard shell comparison. Though the lobster seemed to taste the same, the hard shell was more meaty. We were the only diners who did not bring a cooler, and one couple with a small child had brought a salad in plastic bowl as well. It was obvious no one had driven out of their way to get there, and we probably wouldn’t have stopped without a recommendation, but once again, we felt grateful for being welcome at unadorned local landmark.

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Footnote – I didn’t exactly heed Donna’s advice. After touring Acadia National Park we drove into Bar Harbor and parked the car to wander the town amongst the tourists who had spilled off of the eye-sore of a cruise ship parked in the middle of the harbor. Since it was lunchtime and the sun was shining, we decided to order one more (over-priced) lobster roll at the take out window of a restaurant on the pier. Perhaps because we ate them overlooking the shining water – or perhaps because they were served with Cape Cod Chips – these were the tastiest rolls of the trip. The rolls were warm and buttery and the lobster meat lightly mayonaissed and peppered to perfection.

Luckily we found some Cellardoor wine for sale in a small grocery store in Camden and it peaked our interest enough to put us on the road to Lincolnville, where this lovely winery had so much to offer.

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I wish I had taken more pictures in the main tasting room which had a semi-circular tasting counter with comfortable stools around it. Tastings were free and generous. And a free wine and cheese pairing tasting was in progress in their more formal tasting room where wine colored plush upholstery covered seats line the tasting bar and another seating counter faces the windows. It impressed me as lovely venue for a small private party.

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A small gift shop separates the two tasting rooms. I was totally intrigued by the story of the winery logo which was take from the old barn door that used to be on the property and which they have displayed inside the gift shop. Carved into the wood is a symbol indicating that hobos were welcome. I have just started watching season 1 of Mad Men ( finally finding time to watch television on Netflix while I sew ) and there was a whole episode about a hobo and the symbols of the safe houses. It reminded me of what I had learned about the patterns in the quilts displayed for escaped slaves outside of safe houses.

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Above the tasting room and gift shop is another production area and there was a balcony overlooking the vineyards that offered a lovely view.

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A pretty view – but not as lovely as Lake Erie’s Quarry Hill!

Our town night stay in a tiny waterfront cottage in Owl’s Head gave us a few unique dining opportunities. We depended upon the recommendations of friends and happened upon a few gems on our own.

Rockland Home Kitchen Cafe

Somehow we drove through lunch time, so we opted to drive past our Owl’s Head destination in favor of lunch at Home Kitchen Cafe in Rockland. Once again Tripadvisor helped us find the perfect place just out of town where more locals than tourists can be found on a Saturday afternoon. They are only open until 3:00 and they serve breakfast and lunch all day. We had to wait for a table – the place is pretty small, but in addition to a full menu, they have a side board of lobster specials. We opted for the lobster tacos on homemade tortillas. They were served with a small side of flavorful black beans. In my quest to try lobster every way – I can now say it is a delicious taco filling as well.

Owl’s Head General Store
Nothing is more nostalgic than dining at the Owl’s Head General Store. The “town” of Owl’s Head is limited to a store and the post office and evokes the simplicity of a time period I never experienced. Somehow, Food Network’s Magazine discovered this spot and popularized it in a 2009 spread of 50 Burgers from 50 States. Consequently, the Seven Napkin Burger advertisement calls in patrons who order breakfast or lunch from a chalk board in the kitchen.

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We were there at 8:00 on a Sunday morning and were clearly the only tourists in the joint. Eggs Benedict was an unlisted breakfast special, and when David ordered it, the cook who over heard him called out that the Hollandaise would be done in a minute. While we were eating, we had a table side visit from the cook, who came out explain this was real Hollandaise – the kind that is likely to kill you. We left with full bellies as more locals arrived and greeted their neighbors. I asked as we were paying our check what we should do for the day and was told that the Patriots were on at 1:00.

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Our second morning in Owl’s Head, we returned to the General Store for the Blueberry Pancakes. Maine is a blueberry loving state and at the store you and order one or two – if you dare. Announcing to the same cook that the Hollandaise hadn’t killed him, David went for the double. These pancakes were thick as a grilled cheese sandwich and covered the entire plate. They were the quarter-pounders of the pancake world. Once again the cook visited our table to make sure they were cooked all the way through. I was a little surprised they were not served with the blueberry syrup I had seen for sale in the local gift stores, but the maple syrup was real and I didn’t begin to finish my single and have no idea how David ate them both.

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Camden – Fresh
After a rigorous morning of hiking in Camden Hills State Park. we had earned a good lunch, and perhaps a libation as well. All I had to see was a Bloody Mary on the table in front of a patio diner and I knew what I needed to help my legs stop shaking. Fresh Bakery and Market, features locally inspired quinine and fresh ingredients. I thoroughly enjoyed a Pan Seared Maine Peekytoe crab cake salad with homemade chutney.

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Rockland – Cafe Miranda

Friends who visit Camden regularly put Cafe Miranda at the top of the restaurant recommendation list and rightly so. It is small and intimate inside and although we may not have needed a reservation, having one promised us a table at the front window. The menu requires some reading – they offer local ingredients in unique combinations on a menu that is eclectic and creative. Case in point – our appetizer was the Specials yellow tomato variation of one listed as 50 M. P. H. Tomatoes – Maine grown tomatoes, corn-meal dredged and pan fried with a spicy house dressing. I ended up ordering one of my favorite dishes of the whole vacation – a pasts dish from the specials menu simply called Summer – which turned out to be homemade fettuccini pasta with a generous amount of lobster meat, fresh tomatoes, corn and loads of parsley.

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I’m excited about finding an honest-to-goodness, laugh-out-loud funny book now and then. Maria Semple has written for television – arrested development, Mad About You, and Ellen. She lives in Seattle where fictional Bernadette stages her “disappearance from the stresses of her life”. Bernadette is mother to precocious Bee, wife of Elgie the Microsoft guru of robotics and a MacArthur grant recipient in her own right for her architectural masterpiece – The Twenty Mile House – a pioneer in green building. But everything she would seek to build crumbles and when frustrations mount – she stages a vanishing act so funny it had me reading pages out loud. Don’t miss the transcript of Elgie’s fictional TED talk! I had seen this book advertised in several women’s magazines and couldn’t wait to get it from the library. I won’t say where I read it – but a picture is worth 1000 words.

Any and every dining experience is available to visitors to Provincetown, Massachusetts. There is a Portugese cultural influence which pays tribute to the influx of foreign fisherman who settled in the area. A frequent menu offering at all sorts of establishments is Portugese Kale Soup.

I will remember dining in Ptown for the memorable lobster dishes, Wellfleet oysters, and yummy Bloody Mary’s I enjoyed at the restaurants detailed below.

The Lobster Pot
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We actually visited The Lobster Pot on two different occasions during our four day visit. When we first strolled Commercial Street upon arriving in town, I honestly passed it off as a tourist trap, with its retro-neon lobster over the often crowed doorway. However, we were assured by our friend Johnny, our Ptown host, that consistently good food has been served there for decades. Our first visit was for lunch on a rainy day when we arrived right around noon and were shown to an upstairs table by a window with a view of the harbor. David ordered the Portugese Kale Soup which was full of linguica, chourizo, kale and bean and a flavorful antidote to the weather. I chose Chef Tim McNulty’s prize winning clam chowder and my first Lobster Roll of the trip. I initially asked for water when David ordered his requisite local IPA. Then I read the description of Shawn’s Famous Bloody Mary – Black peppercorn, lemon peel and pepperoncini infused Vodka with their own homemade Boody Mary mix – served in a tall glass rimmed with seasoned salt which tasted of Old Bay. Most impressive was the presentation. They proudly serve their dishes on vanity plates reminiscent of a life-saver on the side of a boat.

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We made our second visit after returning from our sunset dune tour of the area. It was already dark but the place was hopping and still we were quickly seated at a two person high top near the bar. Since we had snacked on some cheese and crackers with wine on the beach during sunset, neither of us was particularly starving. I asked the waiter for help with an appetizer order and he steered me in the right direction with the Lobster and Avocado Appetizer which arrived looking like a corsage. The menu describes it as meat from a whole lobster layered with diced avocado and papaya served with a sweet pepper vinaigrette and tarragon mayonnaise.

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We later saw The Lobster Pot Cookbook in a bookstore and I seriously contemplated buying it as a souvenir. The Lobster Pot might be the culinary Pilgrim Monument of Provincetown.

The Red Inn

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At the less commercial end of Commercial Street, down toward the breakwater, the historic Red Inn sits right on the water. Built in 1915, it still functions as an inn, but we had come to eat in the restaurant, which is white table cloth fine dining after 5:30 with a more affordable Happy Hour from 2:30-5:30. It was my birthday and we were there for the Happy in Happy Birthday. I ordered a dirty martini and David got his first Whale Tail Pale Ale. Since we were splurging on appetizers for dinner, we ordered the first four listed on the menu and asked our server – who had already told us her best friend’s birthday was also that day – whether that would be enough to hold us. She promised to take good care of us! She brought out a half-dozen Wellfleet oysters from the raw bar, an order of Crispy Panko Crusted Shrimp with sweet hot chili sauce, an order of Oysters en Brochette which were wrapped in bacon and served with a remoulade dipping sauce and a one-half lobster tail grilled and served in a shell.

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We devoured those as clouds rolled in and waves beat the rocks in front of us. The waitress suggested we try the Creole Chicken Liver Mousse Pâté with Accoutrements. It was served with sliced baguette, chopped egg, pickles, onions and grainy mustard.

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As the 5:30 fine dining hour approached, she moved us and our drinks out to the quintessential white wooden Adirondack chairs on the patio and we faced the ocean in complete satisfaction even though it was beginning to drizzle. We didn’t need a reservation and didn’t have to get dressed up, but it was as special a birthday dinner as I have had for a long time.

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The Mews
Reservations are required, even after Labor Day, at The Mews, which sits on the water at the opposite end of Commercial Street from The Red Inn. And forget trying to find a convenient place to park, even after Labor Day. Our former student, author Salvatore Scibona, who lives in Provincetown and was, sadly, out of town for our visit, had told us The Mews was a “reliably good and reliably high end place with a hundred different kinds of vodka. “. After reading restaurant reviews on Tripadvisor at a window table at The Squealing Pig Pub that afternoon, we made a reservation based almost completely on the reviewer who called the Lobster Risotto “what elegant decadence tastes like”. After locating a $10 parking spot three blocks away, we were shown to a cozy beach view booth and greeted by a friendly waiter who almost sounded Portugese. I ordered a glass of Ridge Vineyards Zinfandel and David was disappointed to find only a few beers offered in the shadow of all those imposing vodkas – although he compensated by ordering a shot of Makers Mark with his dessert. We agreed to share a poached pear and goat cheese salad with candied nuts.

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David’s filet was served with a stack of beautifully layered Chipotle flavored sweet potato au gratin.
The Lobster Risotto was divine – chunks of butter poached lobster with wild mushrooms and asparagus in creamy risotto drizzled with truffle oil and sprinkled with fresh mint. I savored every bite and would have licked the plate! No room for dessert! David, on the other hand, has a personal rule of thumb regarding dessert – if Key Lime Pie is an option, don’t pass it up. It was served with whipped cream, a sliver of incongruous lemon -not lime- plated with a flourish of mango coulis. He described the pie as “tarter than a gay man in shorts”!! Sorry! When in Provincetown – let your Midwest faux pas fly! Seems like Provincetown brings out his the red state rudeness. I was glad we got out of the grocery store without incident when, after the man in line behind us dropped his jar of Planters, my husband announced

Nuts Down!

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The Aqua Bar
We had also been told about the beachfront Aqua Bar and decided to celebrate the fact that the sun finally came out with another fine Bloody Mary. Some folks consider them breakfast drinks! Strong and spicy and certainly splashed with clam juice.

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Now that I actually have my dream job pouring wine in a winery tasting room, I feel compelled to share the love of My Wining Life! My first post under my new category is devoted to the first winery we visited on our recent vacation. Down toward the Provincetown tip of Cape Cod is Truro, Massachusetts and we happened to be there for my birthday. Truro Vineyards showroom is inside an old house and there was a good crowd on the Tuesday after Labor Day.

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This winery has an efficient and very informative format for their tastings. For $10, an individual is given a full-sized souvenir wine glass and instructed to go outside to the tasting pavilion alongside the vineyards where every 30 minutes a structured tasting is conducted. The tasting fee includes 5 tastes, but if you are sitting with someone (like my husband) who you don’t mind swapping spit with, you can taste 10 wines by sharing glasses.

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Pencils, tasting notes, wine crackers and a rinsing bottle of water in one of their signature lighthouse shaped bottles are on each table. I was interested in how the hostess explained the amount of residual sugar in each wine and what foods each would pair well with. I’m going to have to pick up my game! We brought home three bottles – two from the lighthouse series because I just LOVE the kitschy bottles! Although we will have to wait until Thanksgiving to drink the Lighthouse Series Cranberry wine – which really will taste great with a traditional turkey dinner.

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The Oilcloth Clutch

September 2nd, 2012 | Posted by Lackey in My Latest Project - (0 Comments)

The Fall Style Magazine from The New York Times had a full page of clutches and a headline that suggested the evening bag is out – the clutch is in.

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I experimented with a variation of a pattern I have used in the past for a simple zippered pouch with a contrasting lining and accents. The oilcloth variety is sleek and kind of chic! My daughter requested black with cheetah print which I decorated with an oilcloth flower and hand-sewn button.

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Two more combinations also turned out cute as can be. The black and white one I took as a clutch to a recent wedding and got loads of compliments.

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