Lately, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about, and shopping for, food. I’ve been to the grocery store more times in the past two or three weeks than I usually would in a month or two, back when I felt satisfied by my larger shopping trips. Here and there, I think: “But you know what would be great, if I had some more tomatoes.” Another trip to the store. Luckily I haven’t spent as much per trip as I do when I’m taking fewer, slightly larger trips.
I hope I’m not becoming obsessed with food. A lot of days it feels like the only thing I get done is planning or making meals. At least half of that time is spent wishing for pizza or burritos. It usually takes a week or two before I absolutely HAVE to satisfy that craving… I’ve frequently made one of my favorite snacks, pizza toast, and it’s sadder cousin, cheesy toast (has no sauce or tomatoes to make it more like pizza).
Today for breakfast (ok, more like brunch) I made a combination of two of my go-to breakfast/lunch/snack foods: cheesy avocado toast. Most people would probably call it an avocado melt, but I like to be different. I spread the bread with avocado, added some chopped green onions and a dash of olive oil, smothered that in cheese, and baked it in the toaster oven until the cheese was perfectly melted and browned. (This mostly happens when I briefly lose track of time; otherwise I often get too impatient to let it brown.) It was very tasty, slightly too hot, but I avoided burning the roof of my mouth! Yay!
Sometimes it feels like food is the only thing in life I can figure out. Everything else is a mess, but as long as I can still make myself something delicious and at least semi-nutritious, I can enjoy a little bit of my day.
Today, I suddenly felt a strong urge for clam fritters from Ronnie’s. This is a seafood place in Auburn, MA where I used to go all the time growing up. I’ve barely gone there at all since starting college. Maybe once a year. They make an amazing lobster roll.
The clam fritters are balls of perfectly fried savory dough dotted with small pieces of clam. I don’t remember them being particularly greasy, which is an impressive feat considering they’re made in the fryer… They’re so delicious, so comforting, so exactly what I want to eat at this moment.
Sadly, I don’t know if the restaurant is still open. It’s a seasonal place, starting some time in April and ending either in September or October. If they are still going for the year, chances are very slim I’ll get a chance to go. So if you’re in central Massachusetts, consider going there and eating some clam fritters for me. If they are still open, there might be a bit of a line. Just stick it out, the food, generally is worth it.
(Just don’t go there and order a burger. GET THE SEAFOOD. That’s the entire reason for going there.)
You can’t call yourself a foodie unless you have an opinion on some kind of artisanal local/lesser known microbrew. I don’t call myself a “foodie” in any case, but that is the topic of today’s post. Specifically, I’m going to throw my hat into the ring (I don’t even know if that’s the right use of that phrase…) regarding Downeast, which is a brand I have personally enjoyed.
Since it’s now officially been fall for over a week, the general desire for cider here in New England will do its usual turn up to 11 (yes, I just made the Spinal Tap reference. Side note: Spinal Tap would be a great name for a bar or pub. A skeleton bar?). And while I’ve enjoyed regular old apple cider both cold and hot for as long as I can remember, since I became a legal drinker I have also favored alcoholic ciders. I’ve had many different brews, so I have some experience with them–but this is purely my own opinion of the beverage, so I guess you’ll have to get some to judge for yourself.
I first had Downeast’s traditional style cider at two different restaurants where they offered it on draft. I loved the flavor and the fact that it has that cloudiness that I was used to in regular, family-friendly cider but never saw in the adult version. When, many months later, I saw a display for it in a liquor store, I just had to buy some… it turns out, they make a range of flavors, and I decided to try some that would be new to me. First I went with the honey cider. It sounded delicious to me. It turns out this is a mead, or a mead-cider blend, and I don’t think I’m that much of a mead person. While I did like it, I much prefer the regular flavor and probably wouldn’t buy the honey variety again.
Most recently I tried the cranberry flavor. I really enjoyed this one. It feels very fall-appropriate, and might be a great choice for Thanksgiving. I decided it would be best consumed poured into a glass with a slice of lime. I am far from the first person to make use of the cranberry-lime combination, but I would venture to say that I’m probably among the people who love it the most.
I think the lime really added something to the flavor that made me, personally, enjoy it more. I also believe pouring it into a glass added to the experience. I’ve never really been into drinking out of a can (aside from soda, which I don’t drink much of anymore).
My decision after having Downeast three ways is that it is a good brand that I’m happy to support. I do think that from now on I’ll most likely try to get it on tap/draft, and buy something else to drink at home–unless I’m really craving the cranberry cider, because I’ve never seen that from any other brand.
Until next time,
*I know that people have different ideas of what “local” actually means. For some it only applies to products made within the same state or town/city. This is not my view of it, but as the good people of Downeast let me know in a comment, they are currently based in Boston, which is my area. After they commented I actually went to look up their website (downeastcider.com) and found that they’ll be at SOWA Open Market until the end of the season! I definitely want to go if I can, but regardless, you should go check them out if you’re in the area.
One of my best non-recipe experiments in the past year or so was my eggplant parmesan-inspired dish. The title of this post is the closest I could come to an appropriate name for them. I think it fits pretty well.
As the story goes, I had an eggplant, and I was thinking of just roasting it, but then I decided I really wanted to bread something, and eggplant would work perfectly! I sliced the eggplant into slices of fairly even thickness, although they were not exact, because if I don’t like going to the effort of using recipes, you can bet that I don’t usually bother to chop or slice things exactly evenly. Once sliced, I put the pieces through a typical dredging (flour, egg, breadcrumbs) and laid them on a foil-lined baking sheet.
The breadcrumbs I used were seasoned, and I believe they also contained cheese. I then mixed in some parmesan cheese (the crumbly kind) to make it even cheesier. I drizzled olive oil on top of each piece, trying to be liberal with it without drowning them. The point was to make them nice and brown on top, not to make them soggy.
Side note: I think it would certainly be possible to eliminate the cheese and egg from this recipe and make it vegan! (Is there a vegan egg substitute?) It should still be pretty tasty.
The whole baking sheet when into the oven, somewhere around 400 degrees, for 20-30 minutes (I honestly can’t remember now), until they were nice and browned on top. If you decide to try this, they’re done when they look done. Eggplant doesn’t take that long to cook.
In plating, I decided to top them with a little of tomato sauce from what I think was the best batch I’ve ever made (it seems the secret is adding more salt). Overall, I’d say they came out perfect. The one complaint is that they cool pretty quickly. Luckily, they still taste good that way.
Forgive the photo quality. I’d love it if there was a really clear picture of this, but it’s pretty hard to to that with my phone’s camera. In any case, this should give you an idea of the resulting product. I ate it for dinner, as well as some quickly pan-fried slices of the same eggplant that wouldn’t fit on the baking sheet, but I think it could also be a great appetizer for a dinner party. Whenever you decide to eat it, just remember to try to get it crisp! It just adds a little extra something.
It seems I have made a very obvious mistake. …I started to think of the No-Recipe Life as having a recipe.
I haven’t written much because I haven’t felt inspired in the food area. And obviously this is a food blog, right? WROOOOONG. Not entirely wrong, as that was the original intent, but as time went on I added other types of topics to it, and intended to expand it even more before I went on an unintentional vacation.
I’m sure I’ve mentioned before that I decided to use the No-Recipe approach to life in general, not just food. Sure, some guidelines are often useful, but who wants to stick to a certain set of rules all the time? Boring people, that’s who. (No offense if that’s you…)
Who knows why I forgot. Maybe I just got confused since most of my views lately have come from a single food post. Maybe I worry that no one cares what I have to say about other subjects. Maybe I shouldn’t care if they care, and write what I want.
Perhaps I’ll pick it up again immediately and be posting all the time! Perhaps it will take a while to get back into blogging with regularity. Perhaps I will start doing chains of sentences that begin with the same word often enough that people will start to seriously question my writing ability… let’s hope not.
It’s hard to give yourself a proper wrist-slap for going about something the wrong way. Probably because your heart’s just not in it (the wrist-slapping). I suppose it would make more sense just to learn and move on. Anyway, I do hope to be posting more soon, and as I’ve said I would do many times before, I might totally revamp my blog. Because it’s not vampy enough.
The other day I saw a picture of empty pastry shells and I thought, “Mmmm, a creamy, fresh fruit tart would be so good right now.” Or maybe a cheesecake. Because fruit tarts are the most common dessert to come in that sort of shell/crust, although I suppose they are sometimes filled with a chocolate pudding-like substance as well. Then I thought… I kind of just want the shell.
If you try to tell me that these pictures do not all look completely delicious, I will assume you’re lying.
I suppose the answer is to go buy a fruit tart and an empty pastry shell and eat both. Then I can give an informed decision not concerning which one is tastier, but which one I am actually craving.
Making one is another option, but I’ve never had much interest in baking something I can just as easily buy. For this reason, I don’t have flour and sugar waiting around to be made into cookies, cakes, and tarts, and I probably don’t have enough butter, either. If I had a kitchen to myself, I might be more likely to spend more time in it experimenting with food. It’s part of the reason I haven’t been posting much–I need the place to myself to really get into the spirit of fun, experimental dishes that I used to write about all the time.
For now, I can only say that looking at this pictures is really making me want a tart shell, filled or not.
I’m working at home for the time being. One of the awesome things about that is that you can make a lovely lunch feast like this, instead of relying on leftovers, easily totable items like salads or sandwiches, or a scrounged convenient store lunch. My lunch, pictured below, is delicious, and took about 20 minutes to make. And all without a recipe, too–as you might have guessed.
Rice: Boiled with butter and tarragon.
Broccoli and potatoes: Sauteed in butter and canola oil. Seasoned with pepper, salt, and turmeric.
Chicken: My masterpiece. Quick, pan-made tandoori chicken. Such a vibrant coral-y, orange-red. Apparently this is the color all our lips should be for spring, if you listen to the fashion sites. If you’re interested in how i made this, leave me a comment and I’ll do a post focusing on it.
With all the oil and butter, this might not be the healthiest meal ever, but it does include vegetables and is fairly balanced, so what do I care. I’m enjoying myself. Bonus: leftovers so I can eat this delicious concoction again sometime in the next few days!
I don’t have the answers. Perhaps you read that sentence and decided this wasn’t worth reading and clicked away. If so, you were in the wrong place anyway. Or maybe you just said “Ok, and…” because no one really has the answers. I don’t think “the answers” is a thing that really exists. I don’t even have good advice about those significant things you can do to improve your life. I have no idea what that stuff is all about. Most of that type of advice is crap: it either doesn’t work in the long term, or is too vague to implement, or only works for people in some circumstances. No, forget about that.
I have found, though, that certain small things can help you in life if you make the effort. Sometimes, that requires only a few seconds of your time. It couldn’t be easier. (Another lie!)
1. Turn off autoplay on Netflix. When you’re watching a show on Netflix, the next episode plays automatically when one ends. That was nice of them! Except no, it wasn’t. It’s just a trick that keeps you mindlessly using their site longer and can keep you from productive tasks. But there’s hope!
Go into the “Your Account” section, scroll down and find “Playback Settings.” Then you can uncheck the autoplay option. The screen you get at the end of an episode is exactly the same, only it won’t start the next episode until you click play. Continuous watching is still incredibly easy, but that extra step also makes it easier to step away from the screen. You’re welcome.
2. Walk faster. If you already walk fast, you can skip this one–but judging by my experience of constantly being stuck behind slow people whenever I walk down the street, chances are you don’t walk that fast. You’ll most likely only shave seconds, maybe a few minutes if you walk far, off your trip, but add it all up and you’ll have enough time to watch that extra episode of Mad Men that didn’t play automatically.
I was thinking about this just recently. If I walked slower, it probably would NOT be the case that walking is often more efficient than taking the bus or train in some circumstances. This was just after I got stuck behind two people who were barely moving at all. If I broke my foot I’d have been walking faster than they were. Luckily there was enough space to pass them after only a few seconds, but I had to come to a complete stop first, which is even more frustrating when it’s this cold out. So please everyone, just think of the people who are stuck behind you and walk a little faster.
3. Don’t assume anyone’s holding the door for you. When you’re out somewhere, anywhere, and you’re exiting or entering a building/room behind someone, I have news for you: getting through that door is YOUR responsibility, not theirs. Granted, if someone sees you and actively closes the door in your face, that’s certainly rude, but you probably won’t encounter too many of those. Half of them are probably unintentional–they were already closing the door, saw you, and didn’t register it well enough to adjust their actions. It happens. People aren’t perfect. If someone fails to hold the door open for you, no matter how close behind them you are, that is not rude. That’s just someone going about their business, thinking about where they’re going, instead of where they just were. I guarantee we all do it. You can’t assume that person knows you’re trying to get through the door right behind them. They can’t read your mind, and, like I said, they might not be in the habit of keeping tabs on who’s behind them. Maybe that person doesn’t pay hyper-attention to everything strangers they pass are doing.
Now, if you’re walking with someone, and that person doesn’t hold the door open for you, well, that might be a bit rude. But you still shouldn’t expect it, because at the end of the day, if you want to use a door, you might have to open it yourself. End. Of. Story.
4. Have at least one When-in-Doubt book. I’ve just made up this term, but you may very well be familiar with my meaning. This refers to a book that you can read at any time, no matter how many times you’ve read it before. Preferably it will be something small enough to easily carry around with you. Even if you have an ereader, and you can carry around hundreds of books on your one little device, you could still use at least one when-in-doubt book. It can function as a sort of layover when you can’t quite decide which book to read next, or it can be a comfort. I don’t actually have one yet, because I just came up with this tip, but I’ll probably choose something by Virginia Woolf.
I also recommend having When-in-Doubt music. This can be a song, or an album, or an artist–or even a Pandora or Rdio station, I suppose. It’s something you can turn on no and enjoy no matter what mood you’re listening to or what else you’re doing. If you want some music on, it comes to the rescue. I know it can be very hard to choose, but if you think about it I bet you’ll come up with something. Mine is Jeff Buckley. There is never a time I’ve thought “No, I just can’t listen to that right now.” His music works just a well for in-depth listening as it does for background music while I’m editing, and that is not an easy accomplishment.
5. Eat well. Food is so essential. It’s 100% necessary to live, until they invent those futuristic meal-in-a-pill tablets that we’ll eventually all be eating (god I hope not). Beyond that, it’s a social experience, a sensual experience, and a luxury. When I say that you should eat well, I don’t mean eat healthy. I don’t mean don’t eat healthy.
Eat healthy food. Eat delicious food. Eat decadent food. Obviously, know your body and respect its limits regarding allergies, stomach sensitivity, and how full you can handle being. But don’t worry so much. Eat the things you want. Indulge. It’s true that you only get one body, and so you should treat it well, but shouldn’t that include your tastebuds? Not to mention the chemical reaction in your brain when you eat sugars–a far less dangerous high than most of the drugs out there. So I hear.
I feel like I’m going to be misunderstood as telling you to pig out. I’m definitely not saying that. Knowing how to balance the stuff your body NEEDS with the stuff it WANTS is key to my definition of eating well, so if you’re going to take any of my advice about food, take this one thing.
I can make a pretty good breakfast–that is, good for me. I will not claim to be skilled at any sort of fancy breakfast creations. I can make plenty of things that are tasty, or, at least edible, and at this point I’m very close to completely mastering the egg sandwich (often eaten for lunch or dinner as well, because I CANNOT get enough of them, it seems). I am incapable of making pretty pancakes or omelets. I’m trying to remember a time when I made breakfast for someone else that would be worth mentioning. As far as I can tell, there aren’t any.
This is why many of my best breakfasts happen when I go out. I don’t often go out for breakfast with a buddy. It’s too hard to gather people in the morning, especially a weekday morning, when the only people who could go with me aren’t even awake. (Or are in a different zip code.)
So I go out to breakfast. Or grab something on the way to work.
More often than not, this breakfast comes from Cafenation. They are one of my very favorite independent cafes in Boston (and everywhere else, but I’ll admit there are many I haven’t tried in other cities. In fact, most cafes in other cities I haven’t tried. Totally beside the point), because everything they offer is delicious. Their coffee is really good. Their chai is delicious. All their espresso drinks are amazing (I’m sure there’s the off drink once in a while), generally speaking. They have a pretty wide selection of teas, which I’m sure are also good. I’ve only tried the iced ones.
And the food? Well, duh. Delicious. Always. This morning I had the spiced apple and brie crepes, which were generously stuffed and dusted with powdered sugar. I had them before, probably three years ago, and it seemed about time. They have the standard cafe breakfast fare of bagels with various options for fillings/toppings (depending on if you eat it open-faced or not), tasty muffins and scones, and the full espresso bar you’re most likely hoping for. Then they have their omelets and crepes, good portions, fair price. I’ve tried one of the omelets with salsa and black beans, a bit like huevos rancheros, I guess. They also have a weekly special cream cheese flavor, in addition to the permanent selection, and jalapeno bagels. Who else has jalapeno bagels? Ok, probably a lot of places, but still.
Then there’s the lunch options. They have a small sampling of salads and soup, the latter of which changes by the week or day (I don’t know, I don’t get soup very much), and a nice list of sandwiches on your choice of bread. A few of the sandwiches are vegetarian options. Many of the breakfast items are vegetarian, and you can order them for lunch as well. The sandwiches are served with a good portion of mixed greens–more than just a token side salad, but not so much that it takes your attention from the sandwich. They also give you their housemade balsamic dressing, which is sweet and different and even if you think you don’t like balsamic dressing, I’d recommend you try it.
Bonus: They have one of the best day-old bread selections I’ve ever seen. Very rarely is the stuff more than just a little bit stale, but most likely it will keep for several days. They portion it well, too. I can get a half-dozen bagels, two muffins, and a scone for $3. There are times when I don’t buy bread at the grocery store for two or three weeks because I can get better stuff for less money at Cafenation. However, it’s often gone by midway through the day, so if you really want a good selection, you should go in the morning. It varies from day to day, too, as you might imagine. Sometimes they have a nice big pile, others, just a few bags. It’s a bit of a hit-or-miss sometimes, but definitely worth it.
In addition, the staff are generally very friendly, and if it’s not busy will even have conversations with you about things like tea. Sometimes they even remember my name. I go there a lot. You should go there, and tell them I sent you. It won’t get you anything special, and most of them probably won’t know what you’re talking about, but tell them anyway.
Cafenation, 380 Washington St., Brighton, MA