North Shore Noshing with Alex and Luke

Posted: April 30th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: American, Engine House Pizza, In a Pig's Eye, Marblehead, News, Salem, The Driftwood | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment »

Who the heck are Alex and Luke? That’s what I wanted to know. Better known in their native Canada, these adventurous pals from Toronto have embarked on a whirlwind road trip/social media experiment.

Recently featured in the Toronto news, Alex Sabine and Luke Vigeant set a goal to visit every state and province in North America, guided by suggestions given to them on Twitter, Facebook, e-mail, etc. Where to drive next? They put it up for a vote and let the public decide. Where to eat, where to sleep? You tell them.

Having made their way through the Maritimes into New England, they hit Boston and continued on to Salem earlier this week. Apparently, when it comes to road trip destinations, witch history is a big draw. “When we said we were coming to Massachusetts, Salem was the place people wanted us to visit, even more than Boston. People from all over, some who had never even been to the state, suggested Salem.”

That’s what is fascinating about the social media driven model; the quirky randomness of the experience. You’re not going to a restaurant touted by Fodor’s or lauded on Trip Advisor; you’re having a burger at a place some tweeter’s cousin thought was awesome.

“Most of the suggestions that come our way are food related. Everyone wants us to try their favorite restaurants, but there are so many suggestions, and you can’t use every one. We’ve both already gained weight,” Alex grinned. They claim that so far, they haven’t been given a bum steer yet—they’ve enjoyed every place suggested.

While in Salem, they stayed in one of the purportedly haunted rooms in the Hawthorne Hotel. Exhausted from traveling, then ended up having pizza delivered from Engine House , which they gave two thumbs up. Their Salem stay also included a visit to A&J King, where they enjoyed the laid-back atmosphere along with the delicious macaroons and cookies. Taking a suggestion from a follower, they had a meal at In A Pig’s Eye, about which they later tweeted “It’s a cool place—neat building, food is pretty good— great nachos!”

I caught up with them for breakfast at the Driftwood in Marblehead. “This is the kind of place we love,” said Alex, “and Marblehead is beautiful. That’s what is so great about this—we never would have known to come here.” While Alex enjoyed her poached eggs and “brown toast” (Canadian for wheat), Luke dove into a plate of chocolate chip pancakes, which he declared among the best he’s eaten.

The two are now off in Rhode Island, and who knows where after that. If you’d like to follow their progress and make suggestions, you’ll find them at alexandluke.com, where you’ll also find links to their Twitter and Facebook accounts. And the next time you’re thinking about where to eat, why not try asking the social media world for a suggestion?

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Field Trip to First Light Farm

Posted: April 28th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Farm, First Light Farm, Hamilton, News | Tags: , , , , , | No Comments »

Want to learn more about sustainable farming? We’ve got just the thing: a conversation with Mike Raymond, owner of First Light Farm. The Hamilton farm is in its third season of community supported agriculture, having provided shares to 120 members last year and planning on at least that many this year.

As in the past, First Light CSA members pay $600 for a 20-week share that begins mid-June. Members can pick up their boxed share in Beverly or Danvers on Tuesdays, Topsfield on Thursdays, Ipswich on Saturdays, or (new this year) at the Salem farmer’s market on Thursdays. First Light will also be selling produce at the Georgetown farmer markets on Saturdays this year.

First Light operates a bit differently from other CSAs in the area (Green Meadows and Appleton Farms come to mind) in that there are no pick-your-own opportunities. That’s because Raymond doesn’t own the six acres of land he farms. Rather, he barters with Brick End Farm, a large composting operation. But don’t assume that means Raymond isn’t invested in the business—just the opposite.

Raymond graduated from University of Vermont nearly 20 years ago with a degree in environmental and resource economics and has been farming ever since. His passion for growing vegetables organically in the most sustainable way possible is infectious. On a tour of the hilly field where fast-growing crops like lettuce and herbs are planted, we immediately saw why Raymond is so excited. The field is divided into many small beds with strips of clover growing in between, a technique called permanent bed strip tillage in which the clover and the crops form a symbiotic relationship.

“We feed the soil, not the crop,” explained Raymond, a Beverly native. “And we don’t do anything in a field that doesn’t make sense.” Unlike most farms, the field is not plowed under each year. Rather, the clover strips provide the soil with the necessary fungus and bacteria, and when mowed during the growing season, they provide additional organic matter for the growing crops. In keeping with Raymond’s desire to use resources at hand, irrigation water is pumped from a small pond at the bottom of the field.

For shareholders, this unusual technique (along with strategic use of the farm’s greenhouse) means more variety in their shares each week, since each bed in the field is like its own little garden. It also means maximum production with minimum damage to the land—Raymond and his crew have gone so far as to modify old equipment to facilitate this updated version of back-to-basics farming.

Tomatoes, potatoes, onions, and other slower growing crops are planted in the farm’s upper field, which Raymond described as bio-intensive, meaning it’s designed to produce as much as possible in the space. An unusual moveable greenhouse is used section by section to maximize growth, and after each part of the field is harvested, a cover crop is planted to fertilize the soil.

Those interested in the CSA will be happy to find a picture of each week’s share from last year on the First Light site, along with delicious-sounding recipes for 40 vegetables and quirky descriptions of First Light team members. You can also e-mail Raymond directly for more information on the farm, his philosophies, and the CSA program.

First Light Farm
www.firstlightfarmcsa.com
firstlightfarmcsa@gmail.com

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Celebrating Mom on the North Shore

Posted: April 26th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Bakery, Beverly, brunch, Danvers, Event, Gloucester, Marblehead, Newburyport, Peabody, Rockport, Salem, Wenham | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Mother’s Day, May 9, is fast approaching, and if you still haven’t made any plans to honor mom, don’t panic, we’ve got a few ideas for you.

If you’ve got brunch in mind, it looks like Salem is the place. As usual, the Hawthorne Hotel will pull out all the stops to impress, with a huge buffet including both breakfast items and heartier fare, from 10:30 to 7:00 at $40 per adult and $15 per child.

The Salem Waterfront Hotel is offering two different options. From 8:00 to 9:00, it’s $26 per adult and $11 for children 12 and under. From 9:00 to 1:30, it’s $30 for adults and $15 for children 12 and under. If you want to make a weekend of it, stay at the hotel Saturday night and receive one free brunch for Mom per room (based on availability). Things that caught our eye on the menu were the mascarpone and lobster scrambled eggs in toasted brioche and the Viennese dessert station.

Another deal that might tickle mom’s fancy is being offered by the Peabody Essex Museum. Enjoy a sumptuous brunch prepared by Hawthorne Catering and served in the Garden Restaurant overlooking PEM’s Asian Garden. After your meal, visit the Museum Shop, where you can exchange your brunch voucher for a complimentary gift for Mom!

Pickering Wharf also offers plenty of options. Finz will be serving brunch buffet from 11:00 to 3:00; it will include a raw bar and several seafood choices for $35 per person, $16 for kids under 12.

Sixty2 on Wharf will also be dishing up brunch. They haven’t published a full menu, but Chef Tony Bettencourt promises pecan sticky buns, brioche french toast, and all sorts of other goodies. Reservations recommended.

If you’re looking for something more casual, Victoria Station will be offering a brunch buffet from 11:00 to 3:00 and a dinner buffet from 3:00 to 7:00, at $30 per person. There will be live entertainment with Joe Mcdonald from 1:00 to 5:00.

Of course, Salem’s not the only place you’ll find a meal to impress mom. Emerson Inn by the Sea in Rockport serves up a gorgeous buffet with treats like truffle honey glazed salmon over a bed of maple roasted squash and Kahlua Bavarian chocolate trifle, for $45 per person, $22.50 for children ages 3 to 10.

Ten Center in Newburyport will host a buffet in their private dining room, where mom will enjoy a complimentary mimosa. They will offer two seatings: 11:00 to 1:00 and  3:00 to 5:00 at $45 per person and $15 per child.

If your mom is a traditional sort, she might enjoy a beautiful afternoon tea. The Exchange at the Wenham Tea House will be presenting their annual Mother’s Day Brunch featuring a la carte specials, along with an afternoon tea. For more details and reservations, call them (978) 468-1398.

Lastly, there are those of us who find Mother’s Day bittersweet, because while we can celebrate with our children, our mothers are no longer with us. My own mother fell victim to breast cancer almost 20 years ago, and so the Boston Bakes for Breast Cancer yearly event really hits home.

During the week up to and including Mother’s Day, local restaurants and bakeries will be selling special treats and desserts, with 100% of proceeds from the sales of the specific dessert going to breast cancer research and care at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.

Here on the North Shore, the chocolate buchon from A & J King Artisan Bakers, one of our all-time favorites, is on the list. Cakes for Occasions in Danvers will be offering a traditional whoopie pie with pink cream filling, and Cassis Bakery in Beverly will have Boston crème pies on offer. Participating restaurants include Duckworth’s Bistrot in Gloucester, Mission Oak Grill in Newburyport, Pellana Prime Steak House in Peabody, and Pellino’s Ristorante in Marblehead.

So whether it’s an indulgence for mom or in honor of her, there’s no better excuse to go in search of these sweet treats in the upcoming week.

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Hands-On Chocolate Lessons at The Cocoa Belt

Posted: April 20th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Classes, Danvers, Sweets and Treats | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment »

Learning a new skill is always a pleasure, and if that skill involves chocolate, you’ve pretty much hit the jackpot. And hit it we did, last Friday afternoon at The Cocoa Belt in Danvers. We had set up a private chocolate class with owner Theresa Whitman for ourselves and three enthusiastic youngsters.

The class was held in a large workshop behind the retail store. It started with a brief presentation by Whitman on the origins of chocolate, allowing us to see the stages of chocolate making, including the raw pod, nibs, chocolate liquor, and pure cocoa butter. We also tasted a number of bars with various percentages, starting from 100% chocolate and moving down to dark, semi-sweet, and milk.

Then we each got a parchment-lined tray, cups of almonds and peanuts, and a bowl of warm, tempered milk chocolate from which we made clusters. Next we learned to hand-dip items like caramels, pretzels, and creams (it’s harder than it looks, but oh-so-satisfying). Our final work with milk chocolate was using small funnels and a tray of multi-colored sprinkles to make nonpareils of all sizes and shapes.

We set all our treats to dry in front of a fan and moved onto truffles. First we learned the ratio and technique for making ganache, then dug into ganache that was ready to be formed (the adult bowl was flavored with Chambord), learning to shape it into balls, lightly coat it with semi-sweet chocolate, and roll it in cocoa.

We had requested a lesson in tempering chocolate at home (no machinery involved), and Whitman graciously complied, explaining the science behind this sometimes-tricky process and giving us all manner of tips for success. We then packaged up all the chocolates we had created.

Throughout the class, Whitman was relaxed and patient, making the entire afternoon a joy. She told us how she learned to hand-dip chocolate from her great-aunt (of the well-known Nichols family), encouraged us to eat as much as we wanted as we went along, and happily answered all of our questions.

The 2.5 hour class cost $30 per person, a great value considering the knowledge we gained and the amount of high-end chocolate we each took home. Classes are for a minimum of four people, can be set up for any day but Sunday, and can cover topics such as making caramels and decorating finished chocolates.

The Cocoa Belt
58 Maple Street, Danvers
(978) 774-4332
www.thecocoabelt.com/The_Cocoa_Belt_Workshops.html

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Victoria Station to Host Benefit for HAWC

Posted: April 17th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Event, Salem, Victoria Station | Tags: , , , , | No Comments »

Mark your calanders for this coming Wednesday, April 21st at 6 pm and head on over to Victoria Station in Salem for a terrific fundraising event to benefit HAWC. Dine, drink, dance and catch some great entertainment. Your $20 donation at the door includes a full dinner buffet as well as performances which include a DJ,  bellydancing and Irish step dancing. There will also be a raffle with great prizes from many Salem’s retailers and restaurants including The Lyceum, The Lobster Shanty and Witch’s Brew Cafe.

All proceeds will go directly to HAWC as part of this year’s annual Walk for HAWC to support survivors of domestic abuse. The mission of HAWC is to create social change by taking action against personal and societal patterns of violence and oppression. HAWC provides services and support to victims of domestic abuse residing in the 23 cities and towns on the North Shore in order that they may make informed, independent decisions about their futures. For more about HAWC, or about the Walk, visit hawcdv.org or call the 24-hour hotline at 1-800-547-1649.

Victoria Station
86 Warf Street, Salem
www.victoriastationsalem.com
978-745-3400

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Savory Sunday at Cala’s in Manchester

Posted: April 14th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: American, brunch, Cala's, Manchester | Tags: , , , , | No Comments »

Sunny spring weekends inevitably mean yard work, but on Sunday we decided to fuel up before heading to Corliss Brothers to ogle shrubbery and went in search of brunch. We ended up at Cala’s in Manchester, a cute storefront on Beach Street in the center of town. The interior is warm and contemporary with lots of wood and eye-catching oil paintings by local artists.

Being brunch, we had to begin with the requisite Bloody Mary, which was good sized and respectable, though not particularly spicy, if that’s your thing. We decided on the blueberry pancakes ($7), the pan seared lobster cake ($11), and an order of applewood smoked bacon to share.

Two to a serving, the pancakes were lovely—light and fluffy, with a hint of cinnamon and citrus, certainly not your average flapjack. They were served with a standard side-cup of fruit and fried potatoes, which were nice and savory if a bit heavy on the peppers. The bacon was crisp, tasty and not greasy.

The lobster cake was small but quite flavorful and packed with lobster meat. It was served with a root-vegetable and squash fricassee, which included some sautéed greens that were terrific. The whole thing was nicely complimented by the light and tangy chive crème fraiche.

Indulgently, we ordered dessert, the chocolate terrine with berry compote and crème anglaise ($7) The dense chocolate slices and rich cream hit the spot on their own and didn’t really need the barrage of sauces striping the plate.

With reasonable prices, appetizing offerings, and friendly waitstaff, Cala’s makes a pleasant brunch destination, and if you need to walk off those calories, you can take a turn around the park by the bay or pop into the surrounding shops. Before you get back to the yard work, that is.

Cala’s
7 Beach St., Manchester
(978) 525-3304
www.calasrestaurant.com


Cala's on Urbanspoon

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Much More Than a Fish Market

Posted: April 9th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Ipswich, Ipswich Shellfish Fish Market, Marketplace, Seafood | Tags: , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

It’s no secret that we love exploring gourmet food markets, and when they carry lots of local and store-made products, we really get excited. At Ipswich Shellfish Fish Market, it seems like every time you turn around, you discover something wonderful.

For starters, there’s the gorgeous display of fresh fish, clams, and Maine crab—lobsters swim in a custom-built pool nearby. Then there are prepared foods like stuffed peppers, grilled cajun scallops, lobster-stuffed clams, and salmon cakes, plus taramosalta and fresh Greek yogurt. If you’re in the store near lunchtime, you can feast on a variety of soups, sandwiches, a great-looking salad bar, and individually packaged desserts.

And that’s just the beginning. There are store-made sauces, seasonings, and vinegars (blood orange and black fig sound particularly good). There’s an Asian-food section that includes nori, bonito flakes, short-grain rice, and rice paper wrappers for summer rolls, saving area residents a trip to a specialty market. A rack of bread holds a number of selections from Annarosa’s in Newburyport and Alexandra’s in Gloucester.

The freezer contains a wealth of treasures like salt cod, octopus, fish stock, and lobster stock, along with a selection of prepared entrées. If you have a sweet tooth, we highly recommend a package of whoopie pies from Newburyport’s Chococoa ($5 for three and worth every penny).

Treasures for those eating gluten free are also abundant, including a hot prepared entrée each day, frozen entrées, and packaged goods like bread crumbs, crackers, rice pasta, and granola.

But perhaps the most surprising thing you’ll find in this fish market is grass-fed beef from Appleton Farms, a Trustees of Reservations property located a few miles from the store.

The beef is not only fresh and local, it’s considerably healthier than beef from cows fed a grain diet. Store manager Zina Smith says she tried the ground beef and a few steaks from last year’s supply (it’s available from late spring to early winter), and it was terrific. She added a warning not to overcook it, as it’s much leaner than supermarket beef.

Smith suggests calling the store in advance if you’re looking to purchase beef, as the farm’s CSA members get their shares first, with the remainder going to Ipswich Shellfish and Bruni’s Market.

Tucked away on a side street a few blocks from the main drag, this beautiful, well-stocked market is a hidden gem worth seeking out.

Ipswich Shellfish Fish Market
8 Hayward St, Ipswich
(978) 356-6941
www.ipswichfishmarket.com

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Serious Sandwiches in Ipswich

Posted: April 6th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Cafe, Ipswich, Stone Soup Café | Tags: , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

We had heard good things about Stone Soup Café in Ipswich, so when we found ourselves in the area and in need of nourishment last week, we stopped in. Good thing we were hungry—this place serves up a serious lunch.

The menu is large and includes salads, burgers, dogs, roll ups, specialty sandwiches like grilled cheese and avocado, fried chicken and fish, plus pizzas with gourmet toppings and a selection of house-made soups.

Breakfast items for lunch are a favorite of ours, so we were thrilled to see not only pancakes ($4 for one, $6 for two—and they’re huge) and eggs benedict ($8), but a monster egg sandwich ($7). It lived up to its name: after a cup of excellent spicy lentil soup with sausage ($3), we had to take half of this delicious grilled sandwich home. It featured fried eggs, hash browns, bacon, cheese and sautéed onions.

We also sampled a cup of clam chowder (creamy and full flavored, $3.50) and a reuben filled with pastrami and sauerkraut on grilled bread with melted cheese ($8). And yes, we took half of that home as well.

The service was attentive and friendly, even going so far as to bring us a sample of the lentil soup so we could judge the spice level. The décor is less pleasing; it looks like not much has been done since the restaurant moved from its downtown Ipswich location last spring into what had been Marco Polo, an Italian restaurant.

Stone Soup serves breakfast and lunch every day as well as dinner Thursday to Sunday, with entrees ranging from $9 to $17. A full bar is available for lunch and dinner, including beer from Wachusett Brewing Company in Westminster.

Stone Soup Café
141 High St, Ipswich
(978) 356-4222

Stone Soup Cafe on Urbanspoon

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