Sweet Potato & Potato Pancakes

Sweet Potato & Potato Pancakes

Sweet Potato and Potato Pancakes / FoodLovesWriting.com

Pretty travel pictures, much as I love them, rarely paint the full story of a trip away. Our Maine recap didn’t tell you about the horrible migraine I had our first night, for example, nor about the day we drove a full two hours away from Portland, looking for lunch, only to find three different restaurants closed (all I can say is thank goodness for this coffee shop and its quiche!). The afternoon we flew home from Boston to Chicago, it was after a fast morning stuck in crazy Cambridge traffic during which I had to pee so bad I actually sat there imagining myself getting out of the car, right on the busy highway, to take care of business in the median that was noticeably lacking in bushes or general greenery. (We did finally find a Dunkin Donuts, and even though I had to buy something in order to get the manager to buzz me into the bathroom, I was so happy to enter it, I almost cried.) Sunday night, when we came home, it was after a combined total of 2,000+ miles of driving (most of that driving done by Tim) in the last few weeks, the kitchen had no fresh food but the murcotts we’d kept in our bags with us, and we had a car full of the goods I’m ever transporting, one trip at a time from my parents’ place to mine, to unpack.

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Harvest on the Harbor: Portland, Maine

Harvest On The Harbor: Portland, Maine

Harvest on the Harbor / FoodLovesWriting.com

We walk into the Ocean Gateway building our first night in Portland, and inside the air is electric, people swarming every direction, hands reaching for small bites as they juggle tastes of wine. Live jazz music from the Fogcutters Duo band plays in the corner. A hundred voices comingle. We shed our winter coats and mittens and plunge into the crowd.

Harvest on Harbor OpeningNight5

Here in America’s most northeastern state, in a glass-enclosed building with surrounding water views, is the opening event for Harvest on the Harbor, a four-day food festival celebrating Maine’s renowned food scene. While we’ve traveled several hundred miles from Nashville (by way of Chicago) to be here, we’re not the ones farthest from home. In fact, attending events and competitions over the next few days will be participants from 34 different states and five countries.

HarvestonHarborFood

It may sound strange to someone who’s grown up in the northeast, but visiting New England in the fall has been on my vacation dream list for as long as I can remember. When Tim and I got married two years ago and tossed around October honeymoon ideas, Boston or Maine almost won out. Now here we are, a week after our second wedding anniversary, and Tim’s holding a glass of all-natural Crabbie’s ginger beer (and later going back for one more with a ready hand), from inside a building on Portland, Maine’s historic waterfront. I’m taking a plate of seaweed salad, and we’re splitting a Maine pumpkin whoopie pie stuffed with amaretto cream. We collectively marvel at the duck craquelin ice cream sandwiches from Rockland’s Primo restaurant, a reaction only surpassed when we taste the same establishment’s braised pastured beef sliders. We’re actually here, together, in Portland! In the fall!

Harvest on Harbor OpeningNight5

Portland’s Gorgeous Gelato scoops up samples from its mini ice cream stand—pistachio for Tim, dark chocolate for me. We tuck ourselves into a corner by the windows with our bowls of ice cream and big camera shoulder bag, and Tim says to me, “This is fun!” and I smile. By the time the night is over, we’re sure of two things: There’s a reason Bon Appetit called Portland, Maine, America’s Foodiest Small Town in 2009, and, man, we’re thankful to be tasting it.

Harvest on Harbor OpeningNight5

We attend two more Harvest on the Harbor events: International Night on Thursday and Top of the Crop on Friday. Thursday’s spread mimics that of opening night’s: Lots of tables with samples, all from local purveyors, but this time with an international theme. We like the vegetable samosas, and I go back for seconds on a pumpkin pie shake, but it’s Friday’s event we’re most interested in and still talking about when we leave Maine Saturday to go home: the four-chef Top of the Crop competition.

Harvest on the Harbor Top of the Crop / FLW
Harvest on the Harbor Top of the Crop / FLW

At its heart, Top of the Crop celebrates the part of Maine’s food culture we like best: the farm-to-table movement. Each chef presents his take on local, high-quality food, cooking it before the crowd while we receive samples at our seats. Each demonstration feels like a miniature cooking show. “Here’s a trick you can try at home!” and “Watch what happens when I drop this in the pan!” The first chef is David Levi, of the upcoming Portland restaurant Vinland, who wows us by cooking his dehydrated beet chips in ghee, then topping them with strained raw-milk yogurt, all while talking passionately about his plans for what will soon become the world’s first all-local restaurant. “So that means I couldn’t use a lemon,” he explains to the oceanfront room, stressing his point. “I’d have to use something like sorrel or sheep’s sorrel instead.” Three more chefs present after David, each naming the farms that sourced their ingredients like I’d tell you where I bought my milk. Chef Kerry Altiero of Cafe Miranda is named winner, winning over the crowd with talk of his own Headacre farm, a 17-acre Maine saltwater farm that sources much of his restaurant’s food.  Our favorites at Top of the Crop: Hearing the passionate chefs speak and learning more about Maine’s local food.

Harvest on the Harbor Top of the Crop / FLW
Harvest on the Harbor Top of the Crop / FLW
Harvest on the Harbor Top of the Crop / FLW

While an event like Harvest on the Harbor would hold obvious appeal for Portland locals who are proud of their town, it’s also a treat for out-of-towners like us. In one evening or afternoon, we are experiencing multiple tastes from multiple restaurants, giving us fast exposure with minimal running around. By the end of the events, we leave Harvest on the Harbor dying to visit Primo if we’re ever in the area again, for example, as well as wishing Vinland had already opened its doors.

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But even beyond our scheduled events, Tim and I take advantage of our time in Portland by exploring it and the surrounding towns like we’re on a second honeymoon. Our few days in Portland include walking the city’s charming cobbled streets, the smell of fish in the crisp air; getting lost in Freeport at L.L. Bean’s flagship store and loving the area’s fall colors; driving up Route 1 through Wiscasset, Rockland, Rockport and Camden, each of which charmed us with a marina and farmland and cedar shake homes; and feeling our way around a part of the country that’s easy to love.

Here are some other highlights of where we stayed, what we ate, where we shopped and what we saw in Portland.

October in Maine / FoodLovesWriting.com

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Emeril’s Celebratory Artichokes, Slow-Cooked in White Wine, Garlic, and Oil

Celebratory Artichokes / Food Loves Writing

I wish you could have seen Tim and me in our little galley kitchen on Saturday, October 12, at around 2 p.m. in the afternoon. There we were, side by side in front of the sink, each of us with a plate of slow-cooked artichokes to our sides. Barely speaking, the both of us stood there, rhythmically pulling tender, wilted leaves of artichokes off their softened, deep green bulbs, scraping the flesh with our teeth, oil and juices dripping down our hands and arms and over everything.

“These are the best artichokes I have ever had,” Tim finally said to me between slurps, halfway through his dish.

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Greenville Anniversary Trip, Part Two

Greenville Anniversary Trip, Part Two

Downtown Greenville  FoodLovesWriting.com

I didn’t say so in Tuesday’s post, but getting to spend this last week in Greenville has been a little surreal for Tim and me. We started talking about our upcoming anniversary back in September, tossing around ideas and discussing budgets, and I thought more than once that I didn’t know what to do. Stay in Nashville? Go up to Chicago? Keep checking cheap flights? Maybe Asheville or Knoxville or Birmingham? It’s not like we think we have to take a trip every anniversary, but we do enjoy getting to set aside a few days to be together each year, away from work, away from routine, as a tangible way to reflect and remember and connect. So when Greenville offered to host us and let us sample its food scene, it felt like more than a good opportunity—It felt like a good gift, straight from the One who sources every good thing. All week, as we met passionate food professionals and ate plate after plate of beautifully prepared meals, we kept thinking how thankful we were for what we received. Thanks to you guys, too, for following along with us on Instagram (@foodloves and @mitnollam) and Facebook and here. We wish we could have taken every one of you along with us, through the scenic eastern Tennessee landscape and down into the Asheville mountains. In this post, we hope to offer the next best thing.

Downtown Greenville  FoodLovesWriting.com

This week, we learned there’s a lot more to see and do in Greenville, South Carolina than either of us had realized. But mostly, there are a lot of good things to eat. Here’s a look at where we stayed, what we ate and what we saw in Greenville.

Greenville, SC / FoodLovesWriting.com

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Rosewater Cardamom Lassi

Rosewater Cardamom Lassi

Rosewater Cardamom Lassi / foodloveswriting

The first time Tim took me to Indian food was the first time I liked Indian food. It was also the first time I ordered a lassi. I am half Indian, my dad grew up in southern India, and my Italian-German-Danish mom taught herself to make a mean curry, but I wasn’t on Team International Eating until well into my adult years. By the time I’d met and married Tim, I liked plenty of different cuisines, just not Indian, so on our one-month wedding anniversary, we decided to celebrate by doing something to change that. We went to Nashville’s Sitar and ordered Tim’s favorites: butter chicken and garlic naan. Turns out pillowy herbed dough heady with garlic, alongside creamy, tender chicken, is not a hard sell. I was in. Mostly though, there was that sweetened yogurt drink that had caught my eye on the menu and accompanied my meal. Served over ice in a tall glass, it was sweet, just barely, and flavored with rosewater—it was also the most wonderful offering I’d ever sipped through a straw. I’ve ordered other lassis since, at other restaurants, and they’re usually nice, but that rosewater one is a stand-out. Tangy and frothy and not so sugary to give you a headache (which other lassis have been), it was the kind of drink you dream about for days after it’s yours.

Rosewater Cardamom Lassi / foodloveswriting

Last week, Tim ordered rose hydrosol (which is similar to rosewater). It’s pretty easy to find rosewater online (like on Amazon, for example), and it smells like bathroom potpourri, which is another way of saying I’m not outside enough. You might be tempted, like I have been for years, to think making a splurge purchase on rosewater is out of hand, but, fresh from the lassis we had for breakfast this morning, let me tell you I was wrong. Rosewater imparts the irreplaceable flavor of roses into the foods it’s placed in, creating a floral flavor at once pleasant and unique.

Rosewater Cardamom Lassi / foodloveswriting

Tim came up with the recipe for this re-creation of my beloved restaurant drink, and, if you’ll permit me to brag on him for a minute, let me tell you it is spot-on. Pale and frothy, sweet but not overly so, with just enough tang to remind you of the yogurt and kefir but not enough to turn you away. Coupled with the cardamom, it holds the new first-place title of Best Drink I’ve Tasted in my book.

Rosewater Cardamom Lassi / foodloveswriting

I couldn’t wait until another day to tell you about it, so here you go.

Get your hands on some rosewater and make this now.

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Mustard Green Chips

Mustard Green Chips

Mustard Green Chips / Food Loves Writing

My friend Carla was in town this weekend. I love Carla. Carla is soft and sharp and for some reason has always reminded me of a brunette Meryl Streep. Carla can finish my sentences and make me laugh and when she comes to town and eats lunch at my table, she asks me how she can help clean up, and I show her the sink setup, and there she is, doing my dishes for me as I stand next to her, talking, bent over with my elbows propped up on the counter and my rear end up in the air while I barrage her with questions, her barely missing a beat. As she slips spoons and forks, one by one, into the dishwasher in our galley kitchen, like she is the hostess and I am the guest, I let her because she is Carla and because I know she knows me and because all those weeks (or months? or years?) of walls that typically block we humans from finding intimacy with one another have already been torn down. Carla was the person I went to visit a few nights before my wedding, two years ago this month, so she could make me dinner and we could sit on her new back deck, and she could tell me inner secrets of marriage that can only come from someone who’s already been in it for as long as I’ve been alive.

“Being married is awesome!” I later texted her, from my honeymoon, shocked more than blissful, my cynical heart surprised (still surprised!) that a human relationship could be so sweet.

“Well, of course!” she wrote back to me, with either an SMS smile or a “ha!”

Mustard Green Chips / Food Loves Writing

She was here Sunday because her son got married the day before, almost exactly two years after Tim and I did, almost exactly 31 years after she and her husband, Pete, did. When they came to have lunch this weekend, we talked about the wedding and the decorations and the food. We also talked about what books we’re reading and about Pete’s job and about the tufted chair in our living room and how we bought it off Craigslist.

“Have you ever thought about how, if you died, I mean, like if I died, and Tim and I had had kids, that the only way they’d learn about me would be what other people told them?” I asked Carla across the table, Pete in the bathroom and Tim at my side. “Sometimes I wonder how different people would explain me to be and how different their ideas would be from who I am. Like who really knows me besides Tim?”

These are the kinds of weird, hypothetical questions that plague me, right up there with the “What will I wear tomorrow?” and “I wonder what makes so-and-so tick?” that most people would find annoying. Carla responded with something about how our perceptions become our realities and the way we perceive something is the way we believe it to actually be.

Bowl of Mustard Greens for Chips / Food Loves Writing

It’s answers like those, along with comments in our long conversations about entertaining or family dynamics or pride, that make me feel like when I talk to Carla, I am talking to someone who sees me as I am, someone who understands me. And the older I get, the more I realize how rare such an interaction is and, therefore, how good a gift. When you’re the type of person who gets lost thinking about the way your stories are always autobiographical (because, like Jhumpa Lahiri says, you’re always revealing the things your eyes see—the limitation and grace of your own perceptions of the world), it’s nice to be that sort of person alongside someone else. It’s nice to have someone who thinks your analytical mind is okay.

At our lunch, we fed Carla and Pete a (sadly tough) pot roast, abed Brussels sprouts and potatoes, alongside Tim’s salad and our homemade pretzel rolls. I laughed that we were “treating them like family” by serving new recipes we’d never made before, some of which we’d want to apologize for, but none of which we would brag about, and we ate it all, and they ate it all, and afterwards we went out for ice cream in the Nashville drizzly rain.

Mustard Green Chips / Food Loves Writing

The next day, Tim picked up our CSA share and, in amongst all the tomatoes and herbs and squash was a bunch of mustard greens. Today, I took those greens and turned them into chips, barely dressed, changed chiefly by the oven’s heat. Eating them, I felt like I was eating mustard greens as they are—spicy and sharp, thin and leafy, albeit mellowed and crisped by the roasting time.

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