Scratch Bakery: A little slice of amazing.

Scratch Bakery: A little slice of amazing.

I have been on the search for a bakery to fall in love with for sometime. The type of place where you know people just labor over sheets and sheets of pastry. The type of place where there are neat little piles of pastry scattered over a countertop. A place where everything looks as though it was hand-made. There is something about a place where the pastry case plays a limited role that just sings to me. I feel like I am in another country. A divine jaunt into a French countryside where croissants rule and brioche is wildly available. Walking into Scratch Baking Co. hit all of these elements. The moment I opened the door and took a giant whiff of the air, I knew, I had found something really special. And obviously, I’m not the only one, as the place was packed. This place isn’t a secret. The word is out. On-line, reviews were everywhere, they spoke of one of a kind bagels and truly wonderful coffee. Just looking at the website made me die to take a gander in real life, but the reviews from real folks, none of which were bad, really sealed the deal for me. I needed to go. I needed to see. I needed to eat.

Yes, you guessed it. I broke my no sugar rule. I HAD TO. I mean, I had to. I just had to.

The kids, husband and I took a drive over Saturday morning. It was about a half an hour from my house, long way you say? No, not even, I would drive to the ends of the earth for this place. As busy as it was inside, we were lucky enough to score a front and center parking space and there was definitely more to spare. Upon first glance inside, after the kids stormed the place, I noticed there were only a couple of bagels left. My heart sank a little. Oh no, I thought, this is what I came for, but no worries, they were full again within seconds. Like an answer to a magnificent prayer, this lovely lady came in this white apron and filled the bins right back up. Even after this divine occurrence, I actually ended up ditching the bagels because once I caught wind of everything else, those little rounds just couldn’t compare in my eyes. There were so many options and I felt like I was pulled in a bazillion directions, I mean, kids were screaming, people were moving, my husband looked confused. But then, I saw them, the gorgeous plate filled with “Bear Claws” (almond croissants) which looked unlike anything I have ever seen in Maine.

So I bought two, one for Miles and one for me. My husband got a slice of lemon poppy something bread. Emma chose a chocolate croissant and for the road to Massachusetts later on, I purchased a loaf of their vegan banana bread. Most likely, if left to my own free will I would have bought: ten loaves of bread, sixteen bagels and one hundred of their little luscious chocolate cakes. But in this one instance, toddler tantrums did come in handy because little Miles got me out of there before I could do any real damage. I sort of ignored the lady at the cash register because of this ridiculous melt down that was in fact occurring but I did notice her completely warm smile, adorning offer of an extra bag and willingness to not judge my obnoxious two-year old. That to me, is worth a million bucks. Thanks check out lady, you were super nice. 🙂

The food lived up to the hype. That bear claw was the best thing I have eaten in a long time and after almost 9 miles logged in the books running the night before, I felt as though it was amply deserved. I savored every bite of the crispy but not too crunchy exterior. I licked up every morsel of almond paste that ran perfectly throughout. And I thoroughly savored every single bit of chewy, moist interior that just complemented the exterior perfectly. Miles sat happy for three whole minutes. Emma didn’t speak for five minutes. Josh and I argued about not getting coffee but who cares, it didn’t take away from my bit of happy. Later on, while visiting with my mother in Boston, we enjoyed the banana bread with coffee which was perfectly done.

It’s a place I will escape to often. It’s a place I will dream about at night. Bakeries like this one are hard to come by and I couldn’t be happier I stumbled upon it. When you care about the craft, it shows, and these people obviously care a lot.

Scratch Baking Co.

416 Preble St.

South Portland, ME

207-799-0668

The East Ender

I met the owners of this restaurant when I was cooking beside them at the “20 Mile Meal.” I had it in my head that somehow participating in this event would be great for my then baking business but I joined the event at the very last-minute and was completely over my head. The saving grace that day was my ability to sort of smile my way through anything. I mean, my savory food is basic, tasty, but basic, and when they told me I couldn’t do pastry, I almost died. My real “shit my pants” moment however, was when this pair showed up because their little pulled pork slider just about blew my pants off. I’m a staunch, my food can’t touch advocate. I’ve been getting better at this by the way, years of therapy (just kidding) have helped me off the ledge and into the it’s alright if my corn touches my mashed potatoes realm. But, when Mitch put one of his pulled pork sliders in front of me, with all these different components (touching), I shoved the whole thing in my mouth without question. I fell in love at that very moment. Deep, miraculous love. A month later, when I finished Harvest on the Harbor, I begged my husband to take me to the East Ender because I had been dreaming of this little pork nugget, ever since. And, this was all before I discovered what Mitch and Meg are all about. Little did I know, there was so much more to fall in love with.

First and foremost, you all know how I feel about being connected with ingredients. Farm to table is it for me. I don’t need all the fancy stuff. Just give me some good meat, prepared well with some amazing veggies. Mitch, whom I consider myself ridiculously lucky to be friends with on Facebook (because I sneak a peek at all his *amazing* food), is not afraid to get his hands dirty. He might be one of the most, if not the most, hands on chef in Portland. From what I can gather he believes in working with farmers, butchering animals from the very beginning (still alive) to the very end and uses every part of that animal when possible. I’ve seen pictures of his cured meats that make me want to drop everything I am doing and run to stick my tongue on the stuff he has hanging in his restaurant (although obviously I would never, well, maybe never). And although Mitch gets down and dirty killing animals and cooking everything from scratch, you would never really know it because his plates of food are so dramatic and beautiful. It’s like: milk man during the day and wall street man at night. His two personalities meld well. There is an authenticity to his food that is really lovely.

On New Year’s Eve I went there for dinner and Meg was at the door with a big smile as usual. There is something so comforting about the way she greats people at the door. Warm. Hospitable. Genuine. The menu was out of my comfort zone. There were lots of ingredients I was unfamiliar with but I felt at ease there. My anxiety flag didn’t flare up. As each dish came to my table, I tasted with open arms. And I truly enjoyed the experience. Not only was the food fantastic but the atmosphere is wonderful too. It’s low-key. A nice fire-place in the lounge downstairs or a fantastic bar with additional seating upstairs. You pick. They are both great environments to enjoy food.

This is an adventurous restaurant but it’s a relatable restaurant. Everything is comforting either in aesthetic or on the menu. But don’t discount the skills and craftsmanship it takes to get what comes on your plate.

I advise you all go and have a meal here. Or even just a couple of cocktails (menu has flare bitches) with some small bites. I would say, great first date restaurant or a place for someone you want to romance in a casual way.

*P.S. I borrowed the photo above from facebook, hopefully Mitch doesn’t mind. 🙂

East Ender

47 Middle Street

Portland, ME

207-879-7669

My favorites:

*Broccoli Fritters
Creamy cheddar, pimento mayo
*Hanger Steak
Bacon bourbon butter, sea salt and vinegar fries, seared rainbow chard
*Pulled Pork Shoulder
Cayenne sauce

Weekly Round Up: Kanye, Tacos & Hair

kanye-west

Do we all remember the time before Kanye West was a complete douche bag? It seems to be oh so long ago. His initial erratic/retarded behavior was charming, I laughed at the “George Bush doesn’t care about black people comment” because it was so completely ridiculous. I gave him creative freedom when he auto tuned like, an entire album. But then he went into a downward douche spiral that I could just not rescue him from. I listened to “Watch the Throne” and I loved it for Jay-Z’s creative force but for the most I stopped playing Mr. West’s music and forgot he existed. Then last night, I stumbled upon him again, not sure why. Sometimes a little space apart heals old wounds. Our break-up gave me the time I needed to regroup and appreciate him all over again. I listened to some of his old stuff and it made me want to run. I just wanted to get up and run. So I did, 4 miles inspired by Kanye at 8 P.M. The night before I was to leave for New Orleans. Here’s my play list people, check it out, he may just inspire you too.

1. Scream & Shout by will.i.am & Britney Spears
2. Heard ‘Em Say by Kanye West
3. Cinema (Skrillex Remix)
4. Monster by Kanye West
5. Baptism by Crystal Castles
6. Touch the Sky by Kanye West
7. Power by Kanye West
8. Paranoid by Kanye West

Now, on to hair. I met my hair soul mate yesterday at J. Henry salon in Portland. I felt like a single girl who had been desperately seeking for two years and then out of no where, BAM, there was my man. I have tried about a dozen salons in and around Portland, nothing was good enough, no-one understood and I spent many days crying as I left, wondering, what the hell just happened to my hair? I knew right away that this was going to be a different sort of experience. And immediately upon entering their space, my nerves calmed. J. Henry is literally one of the most beautiful spaces I have seen. It has an open floor plan, where the minimal approach is utilized with splashes of classically aged chic. I could see influences from Restoration Hardware and waves of industrial. It is a perfectly designed space. Then there was Adam, my stylist who aligned with my hair center straight away. He was like: “Girl, we are gonna put your hair on a ten year plan so in a decade, you’ll be walking on that shit. And it will look fabulous” And I was all like: “Whhhhhhatttt, YES! Yo, that’s what I’ve been missing, p.s. I love you” He did everything I asked, keeping my length in the most perfect fashion with a flare of bang that was just enough. He made my hair glossy, healthy, beautiful. And while working his magic he entertained me thoroughly with his “a little too much but just enough” personality which I loved, because I am the same exact way. If you are a woman and you are seeking an experience that will make you feel gorgeous, you need to visit this salon. It’s a gem, a rare gem, in a city that doesn’t always allow this sort of thing to happen. Visit Adam if you can, although I am sure anyone in this place is wonderful, I would expect nothing less from a place that obviously has very high standards. Every interaction I had with every person who worked there was professional, warm and utterly delightful. Adam and I are going to coast through this hair life together, one 6 week appointment at a time.

J. Henry Salon

127 Middle St.

Portland, ME

(207) 358-7555

el-rayo-taqueria

Lastly, tacos. There needs to be some discussion about food on here, right? Of course. Well, I finally made it to El Rayo and yup, it was every bit as good as I have heard. With a collection of authentic dishes and stiff drinks that will get you sloppy drunk, it’s a place everyone has to visit. Oh and lets not forget the awesome blue plastic marlin they place in every drink. I took mine home. They were too cute not too. Josh and I opted for the chips and salsa to start. I then had a burrito which was hearty and delicious. Josh had some sort of tacos, I can’t remember. They were on the smaller side but between the rice/beans and chips, even a man of Josh’s stature was feeling full. The wait staff was prompt and friendly, laughing at our sometimes dining awkwardness (we were sitting on high stools, ya know???) and coming over whenever it seemed we needed something. For dessert, Josh had the chocolate mousse with Mexican inspired flavorings and I had some sort of strangely weird but delicious coconut cupcake. The check, one hundred percent manageable. It was a great price for everything we stuffed in our face. So, if you feel like getting a little drunky drunk and shoving the hot and spicy in your mouth, this is the place for you. Just please, try and keep your pants on.

El Rayo Taqueria

101 York St.

Portland, ME

(207) 780-8226

I’m in New Orleans till Tuesday people so you all enjoy your weekend. Try to keep it light and tight.

xoxo

What to put in your face at noon: lunch round-up

The past two days have made me cry with delight as far as lunch goes. And why shouldn’t it? Prior to some of my recent discoveries, my lunch time was dreary and sad, leaving me feeling empty, completely empty. Well, all that has changed and I’m sharing with you some excellent items & spots to eat, treat yourself and be merry.

Micucci Grocery Co.

25 India St.

Portland, ME micuccis-slabDo you all know what this is???? Do you???? It’s a slice of Sicilian style pizza, outfit for someone like myself, with a huge mouth. The size is obviously, more than generous and I got it hot out of the oven. With a recent longing for home, this slice made me feel like I was standing back in the North End, being all crazy and 22, just enjoying life one moment at a time. This place is serious business, with real deal Italian treats and meats. Go and check it out. You will not be disappointed.

Molly’s Cupcakes ‘n’ More

8 Turning Leaf Drive

Windham, ME

417418I realize that I have already raved about this place, like, twelve or one hundred times but I don’t care. Because the more I discover, the more I love it. Justin, he’s my lunch maker and creator, whipped me up this amazing salad the other day and I have been hooked ever since. Fresh and I mean, fresh romaine lettuce, cut just for me, lots of fresh cut veggies, housemade croutons and real turkey, you can’t beat it. Healthy, filling and delicious. I also grabbed one of these coconut bar thingies today, I couldn’t help myself. It’s a family recipe and worth trying, Layers of sweet coconut with a graham cracker crust and a sweet topping of chocolate ganache.

419420I bought Josh some housemade corn chowder from Molly’s and an oatmeal raisin cookie. He was delighted.

The Good Life Market

1297 Roosevelt Trail

Raymond, ME

dsc01018Really amazing, thick, delightfully packed sandwiches. Fantastic prepared foods and local products. There is so much to love in this place. Sometimes, my husband and I go there and just get a loaf of bread, some cheese and some salami and dig in. The quality of their wine and food is unmatched. Check it out. It’s absolutely a local gem.

Why shouldn’t lunch be a little special? To me, it’s the most important meal of my day. It breaks up work, gets me out of the office and allows me to indulge in sheer goodness. In this area, finding a good lunch can be hard. These places, make my day. So ditch Subway, which is NOT fresh and go to a local shop and get something worth eating.

 

Farm to table gets a make-over

voltbarn

I strongly dislike pretentious food. It makes me feel icky. And it irritates me when people use it as a tool to make themselves feel sophisticated. I like fresh, farm fresh, to be exact, food. However, on a recent trip to Maryland, my undying affection for Mr. Bryan Voltaggio gave me this nagging desire to go to VOLT, his restaurant located in Frederick, Maryland. Now, I know nothing about this man other than what I saw on Top Chef and from what I gathered on Top Chef, his cooking seemed completely out of my league. But I liked his personality and I liked his opinions about food so once I landed, I looked at his website and was completely surprised and delighted by what I found.

VOLT is a compromise between high-end cuisine and farm to table ethics. Frederick, as my friend Caitlin was telling me, is a farming community. And, on the website for VOLT it’s clear that the core of Bryan’s food preparation is centered around this community. I was thrilled. Thank goodness. I was worried I might have to eat a meal containing all the things I hate more than anything in this world. His menu seemed to favor components that are based on the season, rather than scattering it with fancy items just for the sake of it. You can only choose from two options: four courses or seven courses. The seven course is fixed but within the four you can choose from multiple dishes. It’s $80 for the four and $95 for the seven. Pricey. Yes. definitely. But life is short so I said, fuck it, and made a reservation for two.

Upon arrival, I was surprised at the exterior. It’s set in an old Victorian mansion. Upon walking in I was also surprised. It was modern, yet comfortable. It felt easy. The rooms are separated so that each one, kind of has its own thing going on. Caitlin and I were sat at a table that was nestled in the corner and a perfect size for the two of us. There were tons of staff milling about. A lovely lady who came and took our order, but, I wouldn’t really call her a waitress. There was the Master of Wine, as he called himself, LJ, who was completely dashing and wonderful. He decanted our 2007 Châteauneuf-du-Pape and told us lovely stories about his wedding. There was the man whose job was solely to introduce the bread basket and a bunch of other folks serving water, serving food, etc. We were never alone, that’s for sure (in a good way). Someone was always checking in to make sure we were absolutely perfect. And we were, exchanging eloquent conversation immediately.

We both chose the four course, but we opted to add the cheese plate, a $12 upgrade. In hindsight, we could have skipped that because we were literally stuffed by the end. I ordered the following:

beets goat cheese, coffee, sherry, navel orange

ravioli maroon carrot, cocoa nib, black trumpet mushroom

beef australian crescent potato, cheddar, spinach, bacon

chocolate, caramel, chocolate, peanut

I was concerned at the sound of these dishes that I may not like what I ordered. I was concerned they would come and be weird-looking with ingredients I was slightly unfamiliar with and refused to eat. I was definitely worried that this may be too much out of my comfort zone even with the promise of farm to table. And when the amuse arrived and I heard the word foie gras, I almost bolted for the door, given that I have an ethical distaste for the stuff. Thankfully, Caitlin talked me off the ledge and we stuffed the amuse in our mouths, ethics aside and watched as someone came running over the second they saw our noses scrunch up. It was good but the thought of its ingredients was enough to invite a discerning facial expression, which apparently, everyone saw.

Anyways, the courses came well-timed and by the very first one I knew everything was going to be alright. I hate beets, but I loved them in this dish. They were cooked well and went wonderfully with the whipped goat cheese. The coffee resembled dirt and added a depth to the dish I didn’t expect. I scraped it clean, anxious for the next one, which was equally as delicious. Ravioli’s have never ever, been done so well. The portions were also perfect, in fact, far more generous than I would have imagined. Everything was beautifully placed on the plates, so much so, that I became one of those people, taking pictures of everything. The bread that they offered was heavenly, I chose a piece of brioche with bacon, Caitlin had something with parmesan. The main course was life changing and the dessert was more than I could have ever wanted and then some. The whole time, our wine guy kept stopping over, pouring for us and making the dinner very entertaining. I really loved his personality and he added something to the dinner that to me, was priceless. I really enjoyed his anecdotes, as well as his French accent, which could have been real, when he presented our bottle.

Then, when we couldn’t eat anymore, they presented us with 8 mini desserts from macarons to madelines as a thank you for dining with them. They looked amazing but I couldn’t eat them, I was too full. And then, as a goodbye present, they provided us both with a coffee cake, wrapped up in the cutest bundle. WHAT!?! I thought, this never happens. Usually, I leave a dinner this fancy needing a burger. No, no, my friends, quite the opposite, I was fat and happy. Ready to roll myself home.

We had sat there for three hours and it flew by like a flash. We had such a wonderful time, that the concept of time was lost on us. Going to VOLT, was a fantastic experience, one that I will never forget. It’s simply divine to see that success does not breed assholes and that somethings can be exactly how you imagine them. Nothing fell short here. I enjoyed it all. It was worth every moment and every penny. Perhaps some of that had to do with the company I shared, as I have been desperate for my friends recently, seeing as though they all live so far away, but I think everything in this place complimented my evening so well. It’s a night that will go down in the history books.

Even though I didn’t get to touch Mr. Bryan.

Love you Josh. 😉