Philly Lovin’

I feel like things have just been moving at the speed of light lately. This is pretty much what Dane and I have been surrounded by for close to two weeks.

Last week we moved from Boston to Philadelphia. A few months ago we decided it was time to move closer to both of our families. Dane’s family is here in PA around Philadelphia. My family is in New York on Long Island. After 6 years of traveling back and forth (not nearly as often as we really wanted to) to visit our homes with 6-7 hour trips, it was time for a change. We spent about 5 days packing up our things in Boston and hired movers for the first time to load out all of things, drive it down to Philly, and load it all into the new place. It was expensive, but it was probably also the best money we ever spent.

Our things got picked up last Thursday, but didn’t actually arrive here until Sunday. That meant we had some time to visit with friends and family and relax for a little bit before the unpacking began. Our friends Emily and Ben (Emily was my first roommate in Boston and moved to Philly with her husband about a year ago – the universe has put us back in the same city by a happy twist of fate) invited us to Longwood Gardens on Saturday for Emily’s birthday. I am so happy we got to visit there. Absolutely gorgeous place full of the most beautiful flowers and plants and currently hosting an art exhibit called “Light”. Seriously awesome.

And Longwood Gardens had beer, wine, and snacks that you could enjoy while walking around. I had to get a Yuengling now that I’m living here. It was only right. Happy Birthday Em!

Dane started his new job on Monday and I’m on a little hiatus while I unpack and try and get the new place together. There seems to be 5 more boxes for every 1 I unpack. The kitchen got done first, of course. This was about the extent of the decorating though.

So cute. A former student at my last job bought this for me as a going away gift. She obviously totally gets me. Owls + cooking = Perfect gift for Kristen.

I’ve already gotten to take advantage of being closer to home. Yesterday I headed back to New York for my mom’s birthday and to do my dress fitting for my Matron of Honor dress for my sister’s wedding (August 11 – coming up so fast!). It was amazing to get in the car and be able to drive back and forth in just a day. I don’t have to miss things like birthdays and anniversaries anymore.

We celebrated at Carraba’s because Mom loves it there. We shared some wine and lots and lots of laughs. We were probably the loudest group there. That’s what happens when you throw us all together.

Mom was so happy I could be there and so was I. Happy birthday and cheers to my amazing Mom!

I’ll be updating our wishlist here and am already busy at work on all kinds of projects here. We have a backyard so I’ll be planting a garden and we’re planning to get a dog (!). I’m going to be heading up the PA chapter of Girls’ Pint Out here and I’m headed to Maine next week to visit with Sam and Jason. I don’t really know how to take a break, let’s be honest. But I’m loving all of it!

More updates to come from Philly! Stay tuned!

Quinn Popcorn Review

So back in May I visited the Wake Up the Earth Festival sponsored by Spontaneous Celebrations in Jamaica Plain with our friends Scott and Shane. I love this event each year which features local organizations and artisans along with great entertainment from bands, singers and performance groups. It has been so close and we love taking advantage of it each year.

This year I stumbled upon the best find ever, Quinn Popcorn. Dane and I would definitely choose popcorn above almost any snack. When I started talking to them at the festival they had my full attention and support. I learned that they are a small business serving up microwave popcorn made with all natural ingredients. I was sold and decided to give the Vermont maple and sea salt option a try.

Dane was pretty happy when I brought this home and we had to try it immediately. We always use an air popper when I make our popcorn snacks and I’m a little wary of the microwave variety only because I’ve known too many people who grossly overestimate how much time is needed for their popcorn and then it smells like burned popcorn for hours.

This turned out to be super easy, as long as you aren’t a serial popcorn burner. Popped it for about 2-2 1/2 minutes then added this delicious happiness.

They definitely make the instructions easy enough. Come on, if you can’t master this then I don’t know what to tell you. Even I could do it. I have found with other types of oil that it can feel like it all comes out at once and it’s hard to evenly distribute. If you cut on the line and leave a small opening to drizzle, you can just add a little bit at a time while tossing the popcorn. Add in the seasoning and you’re set.

I don’t know if I’ll ever eat any other kind of microwave popcorn ever again. Quinn Popcorn is so good with a few different flavors to try. We absolutely recommend trying it if you’re a popcorn lover. I love knowing we can support a local small business that is making great decisions on what to include in their product. Not in the Boston area? Don’t worry, you can find places to get Quinn Popcorn here!

The Haven 2nd Anniversary Party

Our love of The Haven in Jamaica Plain is well documented. Since this place opened two years ago we’ve been regulars at the bar and in the dining room. The only Scottish pub in Boston within walking distance from our apartment is bound to get some traffic from us, but over the past two years it’s basically become a second home. We were so happy to celebrate their 2nd anniversary with them and Edible Boston.

When I got the invite I actually had to think about it because of how crazy my work schedule is in June, but there’s just no way I could really say no so we made it work (side note – later found out I was the first one to RSVP, not that it’s that shocking). We were really excited for the event which would feature Brooklyn Brewery beer and some local vendors with all their delicious offerings.

We got there and I was asked if I could take pictures for the event, which I happily agreed to while sampling the snacks and dutifully trying the Brooklyn Brewery offerings.

This is the crew from Canto 6, an amazing bakery in JP. If you’ve never been you should do yourself a favor and try it!

Discovered Quinn Popcorn before this event at the Wake Up the Earth Festival in May. Popcorn is our snack of choice, so I was really excited when I met them at the festival and decided to try the maple and sea salt variety. More about that in my next post…

As though all the treats from these local venues wasn’t enough, The Haven had their own snacks to pass around. Each was more yummy than the last.

I’m a horrible blogger and don’t actually remember exactly which appetizer this was, but does it even matter? You can’t tell me you wouldn’t want to try one of these if it was presented to you.

All our Haven favorites were out. Andy at the bar kept the Brooklyn beer flowing while Jason floated around. So much of why we love it there is about the people. Such an amazing staff.

All the happy Haven people there to celebrate their anniversary. Fans of this place are truly devoted.

We were so happy to be able to come out and cheers to the 2 year anniversary of this fantastic bar and restaurant. I cannot say enough about how wonderful the food, drinks, and staff are at The Haven. Take a trip in and get to know them! Happy anniversary to The Haven and to many more successful years!

Revolution Brewing Launch Party in Chicago

By some happy coincidence, our trip to Chicago just so happened to land during Chicago Craft Beer Week. I’m a moderator for the beer app Untappd, so decided to check in with the other moderators who were from the Chicago area to see if they had any suggestions on places and beers to try. I heard back right away from Sean, a fellow moderator, who had all sorts of advice and connections. He was amazing and totally got us hooked up to attend a really incredible event, the launch party for Revolution Brewing’s new brewhouse. The event sold out weeks before we even knew we’d be in Chicago during their Craft Beer Week and Sean was nice enough to search around to find us four tickets.

The event was absolutely packed with Revolution Brewing fans. There was live music, food trucks, a photo booth, a DJ, and tons of samples of different Revolution brews. We picked up our official Chicago Craft Beer Week lanyards earlier on in the trip and felt very official heading into the party.

We got right to business and started trying some of the beer. First up for me was the Anti-Hero IPA, which I loved. Jason and Dane tried the Eugene Porter and Sam went for the Bottom Up Wit. We were all very happy with our choices.

The lines did get pretty long, so after getting our first beer we hopped in line to try some of the barrel aged choices. While we were waiting in line I finally got to hang out with Sean in person who I had been talking to through email, Twitter, and text during our trip and only met up with quickly before then to get our tickets from him.

Just have to love good beer people. We got introduced to a whole bunch more people, including Jessica who has worked on Chicago Girls’ Pint Out. That was super exciting since I’m so involved with MA Girls’ Pint Out. And Ted, who was just awesome and told me all about Revolution Brewing and the beer scene in Chicago.

As the drinks kept flowing we decided we all needed a little bit more in our stomach. We headed back outside to try out a food truck and went with The Slide Ride, a gourmet food truck serving sliders. We were all pretty happy with the choice.

We got to head back into the brewhouse afterwards and finish out the night trying a few more styles, listening to the DJ, and talking to our new friends. Overall, amazing night that we are so lucky we got to attend. Super huge thanks to Sean again for making it happen!

Upcoming Event: Boston Cake Experiment!

Last year Dane and I participated in our first cook-off competition with the Boston Pie Experiment. We had such a blast prepping and serving our Beer Chicken Pot Pie with all the other contestants and attendees. We got to meet some awesome people and try some delicious dishes.

This year I was contacted by The Food Experiments again, but will sadly be out of town the weekend of the competition. Even more sad for me, this year the competition is the Boston Cake Experiment, and we’re going to miss it! I wanted to share the information I got about the event this year because it was truly an awesome experience for us and something we’d recommend to other home cooks looking to try something new and different!

From the press release:

Since its inception, The Food Experiments competitions have consistently been met with sold-out crowds. Each Experiment features roughly 25 local amateur chefs who have prepared a unique creation incorporating the food theme. In a variation on last year’s sold out and decadent Boston Pie Experiment, the 2012 Boston Experiment will feature inspiration through cakes. These samples will be served to the 350 food enthusiasts and local cake-experienced judges. The first judge released on the esteemed judging panel will be Chef Rich Garcia, executive chef at 606 Congress. Additional judges will be released as the Experiment approaches.

Also exciting? The winner from every food experiment gets flown to Brooklyn for the national championship cook-off!

If you’re not sure about being a contestant, definitely consider checking out the event. You get to try a ton of different dishes and help decide some of the winners. Totally worth the $15 ticket.

Here’s the details on how to sign up, either as a contestant or attendee:

WHAT: The Boston Cake Experiment
WHEN: Sunday, June 24th, 2012
TIME: 6pm – 9pm
WHERE: Middle East Downstairs, 480 Massachusetts Ave Cambridge, MA 02139
JUDGES: Chef Rich Garcia, 606 Congress
TICKETS: $15 – includes a Brooklyn Brewery pint & a plethora of culinary delights. Half of the ticket proceeds will go towards charities that promote sustainability and local culinary education for disadvantaged children and teens.

To sign up just click this link!

Chicago Cupcakes

No trip is complete with cupcakes. We tried two cupcake bakeries on our trip to Chicago and I only wish we had had time to try more.

First up was Sprinkles. The location in Chicago is one of ten now around the country (including one cupcake ATM, seriously!). Sprinkles was definitely at the forefront of the cupcake bakery craze. I had made Sprinkles cupcakes before from the mix you can buy at Williams-Sonoma, which I bought almost purely because I loved the adorable packaging. Well, that and I just had a good feeling about a cupcake company named Sprinkles.

The store was modern and sleek. Flavor upon flavor of cupcake were beautiful to look at behind the big glass case. I didn’t even have to think about what my selection would be. Red velvet is a total no brainer for me. Dane went with the carrot cake. And the little take out box was cute too! A great presentation gets me every time.

We didn’t make it far with these cupcakes. The four of us walked outside the store, realized there was a bench right in front, and sat down to enjoy our mid-afternoon treats.

Yes, my shirt has a cupcake on it and says “love”. No, I actually didn’t plan that, but it worked out well. The cupcakes were moist and fluffy and the icing was perfect. Easy to see why Sprinkles is doing so well!

The last day in Chicago we visited More. Their tagline is “Forever More Cupcakes”, which is a philosophy I can fully support. Again, the shop was stylish and we were greeted by a huge glass display of all our options.

They had some really fun flavors and it took us a while to decide. Actually, it took three of us a little bit, but Dane decided immediately the second he saw a cupcake called Bacon Bacon Bacon. Then his mind was made up. Super cute packaging on these take out cupcakes too.

We found a little seating area right outside the shop so decided to sit at a table and eat our More selections in the sun. We tried totally different flavors than we had at Sprinkles and enjoyed them just as much.

What’s not to love about these? So yummy.

I love the popularity of cupcakes. Perfect portion size and cute presentation. Maybe the cupcake craze will wind down eventually, but I’m going to take advantage of it as long as I can and in whatever city I can!

Do you have a favorite cupcake bakery? How about a favorite cupcake flavor? Always looking for suggestions!

Experiencing Deep Dish Pizza in Chicago

I’m a self proclaimed pizza snob from NY. To me, the perfect crust is thin and crispy. The ratio of cheese to sauce needs to be just right. To eat a slice of pizza right you should be able to fold it in half and hold it in your hand. So you can imagine my hesitation at accepting deep dish pizza when Dane and I went on our recent trip to Chicago with our friends Sam and Jason. Dane was really excited to try two legendary deep dish places and so I went along with it, still emphasizing my belief that NY is the best when it comes to pizza.

First up was Lou Malnati’s. Lou Malnati opened his first location back in 1971 and is probably one of the best known names in deep dish pizza. There are now 34 locations in and around Chicago and the business is still family owned and operated. This was our first stop after getting to Chicago. We checked into our hotel, dropped off our things, and headed right back out to one of the locations that was only a few blocks from our hotel (which Dane had mapped out ahead of time).

We decided to go with one pizza to share between the four of us. We got some appetizers too, which we realized were really not needed once we saw our pizza come out. We ordered the Malnati Chicago Classic which had sausage, extra cheese, and sauce on their Buttercrust.

This was the densest, cheesiest, sausagiest (I had to make up a word to describe it) pizza I had ever tried. The waitress had an art to serving the pizza to get the cheese from oozing out too much.

Safe to say Jason liked it.

The sauce was a little chunky so you got bigger pieces of tomato like a hearty marinara. Fork and knife were very necessary but the crust was surprisingly crisp. I couldn’t do more than one slice, but it was very good. Thumbs up Lou Malnati’s!

On our third day in Chicago our stomachs had recovered from our first foray into deep dish and decided to try Giordano’s. Dane had this one mapped out too, so he knew just where to go and we headed there for lunch. Giordano’s was started by two brothers in 1974. Now they have 43 locations in and around Chicago and also in Florida.

Look at that cheese action! Again our waitress was obviously practiced in cutting and serving the pizza with all of it’s gooey cheesiness.

This time we went with just a regular cheese deep dish pizza. Giordano’s pizza has a double crust so they layers go (from bottom to top): crust, cheese (A LOT OF CHEESE), more crust, sauce.

I absolutely loved this pizza. I liked the sauce more and the ratio of cheese to sauce was better for me here than at Lou Malnati’s. Lou Malnati’s did win for me in the crust category though. I thought it was more flavorful and crispier there. Overall, the votes for our favorite were:

Me: Giordano’s
Dane: Giordano’s
Sam: Giordano’s
Jason: Giordano’s

Giordano’s unanimously wins with this group! We really enjoyed both places, but when you get the chance to try two very well-known deep dish pizza restaurants you just can’t help but pick a favorite. And for the record, even as a thin crust loving New Yorker at heart, I liked real Chicago style deep dish pizza. It’s a totally different food experience, but one that was worth having!

Taza Chocolate and Beer Tasting Event

A few weeks ago the wonderful people of Drink Craft Beer partnered with the lovely people of Taza Chocolate to host a “beer and chocolate love story”. The event featured four local breweries paired with different Taza chocolate. The turnout was amazing and the best part? It all raised money for the Greater Boston Food Bank.

We got there and were in a line just waiting to enter the building. It was chilly out, but everyone’s spirits were kept up by the Taza staff bringing around various chocolate treats like chocolate covered hazelnuts, chocolate covered cocoa nibs, and chocolate covered almonds. The 15 minute wait seemed like nothing with some stone ground organic chocolate to enjoy. Jeff from Drink Craft Beer also took some video footage of people waiting in line saying “I’m (fill in name) and I drink craft beer!”. Hope they put a finished video out soon!

At the door we paid our $3 – a bargain for the pairings and for a great cause (each $3 donation provided 7.5 meals to someone in need) – and shuffled in to try the first two beers and chocolates. In the first room was Naragansett Porter with Taza Mexicano Coffee chocolate and Peak Organic Mocha Stout with Taza Mexicano Salted Almond chocolate.

Zac from Naragansett poured the Porter to some (obviously) happy fans.

After that first room we ended up on a second line for the next two pairings that took us through the Taza factory. We got to see the equipment, read up on the process, and see the facility. Taza was founded in 2006 right in Somerville and makes chocolate in the traditional Mexican style. I don’t know how I have lived in Boston for almost 6 years without knowing the factory was so close.

Beer and chocolate share so much, even a fermentation process.

In the next tasting room we tried Sixpoint Crisp with Taza Mexicano Orange chocolate and Slumbrew Happy Sol with Mexicano Ginger chocolate. Again, two great pairings. At the Slumbrew table they were nice enough to also let us try My Better Half, one of their newer releases. Everything was delicious.

After we finished the tasting we wandered the Taza shop trying some other varieties and deciding what to buy. If you check in on Foursquare for the first time you get an offer for $5 off a purchase in the shop. We ended up getting the Salted Almond chocolate and chocolate covered almonds.

The event was great. Awesome job to Drink Craft Beer and Taza! We had a wonderful time and now would love to go back to the factory for a full tour. Great event for a great cause!

Vermont Winter Trip Highlights

Right before the holidays Dane and I took our annual trip up to Vermont to visit with our friends Sam and Jason (who we met in Boston, are both actually from Vermont, but live in Minnesota – we don’t get to see them nearly enough). As usual we had an amazing time with them and their welcoming families.

We started off with a trip to get a Christmas tree for Sam’s family. It was brutally cold and finding the right tree took a little more time than we thought. Luckily after the perfect one was found we got to warm up with some hot cocoa.

Absolutely beautiful views everywhere. Might have been cold, but it was lovely to see.

There’s a small building on the property at the Christmas tree farm (I guess that’s the best thing to call it?) where the owner always has free hot cocoa, snacks and candy canes. We went right inside the second the perfect tree was found and cut down, thankful for the warmth from the fire and the warm drinks.

Also I wondered what a Christmas tree felt like when it goes through this netting machine thing. So I wanted to try. Dane stopped me while Sam took pictures – that’s why she’s my best friend.

Of course the food highlight of any trip to VT is maple syrup. Sam’s parents started making their own syrup last year and we went up in March to see how sugaring works. This is the sign at the end of their driveway for Ledgeview Maple.

With all of this homemade, ready for consumption, delicious maple syrup we decided there was one thing we had to try.

Syrup on spaghetti.

Like in the movie Elf. Except we opted for plain spaghetti. No Poptarts and spaghetti sauce.

And the verdict? Pretty good actually! Not something I’d eat more than a bite of, but a food experience that we just had to have.

I also met a polar bear.

Dane decided he really wanted to try elk so Sam and Jason took us to the Cow Palace – the premiere elk burger spot around. That’s where the polar bear lives, along with a variety of other taxidermy animals. Dane enjoyed the burger but I opted out of trying the elk.

Another great trip to Vermont to see our great friends and their great families. And as always, some interesting new food experiences! Thanks for letting us visit!

 

Mead Hall, Cambridge

Dane and I, along with two of our friends Scott and Shane, visited Mead Hall in Cambridge awhile ago. I held off on writing this post for a bit because this is actually the first place I visited with the intention of reviewing that I did not have a great experience with. I kept hearing about the restaurant on different blogs and Twitter. Meadhall boasts an impressive beer list, which was enough to entice us in.

We headed there for dinner on a Sunday evening and got to a fairly empty restaurant. Not necessarily out of the ordinary, as I assume Friday and Saturday nights are busier and probably even weeknights with the after work crowd. There is a huge board listing the close to 100 beers they claim to have on draft, which I was really excited for.

Our hostess seated us and gave us the bar menu. All four of us were a little surprised and I asked about getting a full dinner menu. The hostess let us know they do not serve a full menu on Sundays. OK, no big deal. None of us had encountered a restaurant with such a limited menu on a Sunday before, but we could overlook it because there were still some options.

We ordered our first round from our server along with an appetizer of Bacon Caramel Popcorn. Three of our four beers came out and about halfway through our drinks our friend was informed that his beer choice wasn’t available. Again, not a huge deal and he ordered a second choice. Service was slow for a night when we were one of the only tables of people at the restaurant. It seemed pretty clear that the beer menu was not kept updated and that the server did not know what was actually available until he put in our order. That board of 100 beers wasn’t looking quite so great anymore.

Out came our Bacon Caramel Popcorn, and with it the news that our friend’s second choice of beer was not available either. So he ordered a third, which he eventually got. All of the beer was served in the proper glassware from the corresponding brewery, which was a really nice presentation.

Southern Tier Pumking

The Bacon Caramel Popcorn was the highlight of the night. It was absolutely delicious and made with maple syrup, peanuts, and bacon. The popcorn was crispy and sweet, with just the right amount of bacon flavor. The four of us devoured it.

We ordered our dinner next off the bar menu. We had a choice of pulled pork sliders, a burger, or fish and chips. Three of us ordered the pulled pork sliders and then we were told they couldn’t actually make sliders, so it’s really just a sandwich. Another no big deal moment, but they were starting to pile up. The last in our group ordered the burger.

Unfortunately the popcorn was where the great food experience ended. When our food came out the pulled pork sandwiches were on stale buns. It just ruined the sandwich entirely so we ate the pulled pork off the bun with a fork. The fries looked promising, but were mushy and not well seasoned. The burger was mediocre and “unremarkable” as our friend explained.

We won’t be going back anytime soon. Since we went I’ve heard mixed reviews from friends and on different review sites. Some people seem to love the beer selection and others have had experiences similar to our own. Sorry Meadhall, just too many little issues which all together left us unimpressed.

 
Meadhall on Urbanspoon

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