Thursday, June 30, 2011

Portland's Best: Mac n' Cheese

This week, my boyfriend Ben made mac and cheese for dinner (as seen above). Not the Kraft powdered stuff, but real, home-style macaroni and cheese. There was heavy cream, flour for thickening, so much butter it’s best I not disclose the actual amount, three kinds of delicious cheeses, and homemade bread crumbs to top it all off. Mmm, mmm, mmm.
As I greedily slurped down the cheesy goodness,* I couldn’t help but reflect on the joy brought by something as seemingly small as this homemade comfort food. It’s so familiar; I kept thinking about my mother’s old kitchen in South Portland and suddenly I was ten again, sitting at the table with my favorite cheesy meal. And while it brings us back to our childhood memories of home cooking, it can also be constantly reinvented. Add a new ingredient and you’ve got a whole different twist. The possibilities are endless. The more I thought about mac and cheese, the more I sympathized for all the people I know who don’t have a Ben to cook them this miraculous meal whenever the craving strikes (and this particular craving strikes a lot at my apartment).
*I’m one of those unfortunate souls who never learned how to properly eat meals…I sort of just inhale everything in front of me and ignore any effort of conversation made by whichever poor fool happens to be sharing the meal with me.
Then, I remembered three things: 1) I’m in Portland, 2) we have almost* more restaurants per capita than any other city, and 3) many of these restaurants have incredible home-style mac and cheese ready for the ordering. So, I racked my brain and thought about all my favorite mac and cheese hot spots in Portland, and as a result, we now have this post. So next time you’re craving some home-style mac, you may not have to wait until laundry night at your mom’s house; just saunter down to some of these restaurants and get your fix. A cool thing about these mac and cheese dishes: they’re typically not too expensive. You can satiate this craving without ruining your credit.
*supposedly San Francisco is in the number one spot, but maybe they just have better PR than we do.
1) Hot Suppa—Located at 703 Congress Street, this small but very popular restaurant serves up hands down one of the BEST macaroni and cheese dishes I’ve ever had in Portland. It’s offered as an entrée at lunch or as a side all day. The lunch serving is HUGE, so if you’re a normal person who doesn’t stuff themselves silly like I do when I go out to eat, you’ll most likely have some leftovers. It also comes with a side (I like to go for the creamy tomato soup).  And here’s the real kicker: it’s topped with grilled kielbasa. Meat lovers, rejoice! * Hot Suppa also uses local goods whenever possible and their mac and cheese is no exception—this particular cheesy goodness can partly be attributed to the Pineland Farms Maine cheddar used in the recipe. All in all, getting your homemade fix will only run you about 9 bucks. And given the quality and the quantity of this mac and cheese, I’d say it’s well worth it!
*If you’re a vegetarian, you can definitely ask them to hold the kielbasa.
2) Great Lost Bear-While I normally go to this Forest Avenue beer oasis for their draught selection (over 50 taps!), they also have one heck of a mac and cheese. It’s so good, it’s listed not once, but four times on their menu. They claim to have the best mac and cheese in town; I say the competition is stiff, but GLB’s mac is definitely up there. The portion is smaller than Hot Suppa, but I like to get it as a side and split it with someone too dumb to realize I don’t share food well…or at all. It’s also a good lunch option—and at only $6.99, your wallet leaves happy, too. Get it with the buffalo chicken for only a dollar more. Match this cheesy delight with one of the 50+ delicious microbrews and I’d say you’ve got a darn good night.
3) District-I tried their mac and cheese for the first time this past weekend, and I am pretty excited about it. It’s served as a side, and while I think mac and cheese goes well with just about everything, it pairs nicely with your steak or chicken entrée. Aside from being creamy and just generally delicious, Distrct serves up the traditional staple with a delightful twist: bacon! As evidenced by my Hot Suppa mention, I am very pro mac and meat. So if you share my feelings on this one, next time you get that cheese/bacon yen, head to District on Danforth Street. Their chicken wings are also amazing, but we’ll leave that for another day, another post…
4) Bayside Bowl- I love this venue for many reasons: bowling+bar+karaoke=a happy girl. Adding mac and cheese to the mix should be illegal. The best thing about Bayside’s mac and cheese is the topping options. They give you the same topping choices as their pizzas; you can mix and match with 20 different toppings! If I’m remembering my high school math correctly,* the number of possible combinations is so high, my iphone calculator displays it like this: 20! = 2.43290201 x 1018. That’s a lot of mac and cheese. If you’re a “just cheese” type, this meal will only run you about $7. It’s $1 for every additional topping. Choose wisely.
*I’m not
Before I sign off, I want to throw an honorable mention out there: I have heard The Corner Room has amazing baked mac and cheese with truffle oil. As I’ve never sampled their dish, nor did I see it on their online menu, I did not want to lead anyone astray. However, if they are still serving it, do it up and let me know! It sounds amazing. Furthermore, if I left out any of your favorite mac and cheese spots, leave a comment! If there’s mac and cheese, I will go!
Until next time…

Friday, June 24, 2011

Summer Solstice: a guide to summer fun without the sun

You’ve probably noticed this fantastic weather we’ve been having. If you couldn’t tell by the cold, drizzly grey outside, the summer solstice was this week. That’s right folks; summertime in Maine is finally here! And while nothing quite says beach weather like foggy misting and a high of fifty-seven degrees, something tells me Portlanders may be looking for some non-swimsuit activities this weekend, at least until Sunday.* Lucky for you, I exist and have taken the time to find cool summer kickoff activities that don’t require real summer weather. You’re welcome.
* I’m not counting Sunday as the weekend because I have to work, therefore no one else can have fun.
The 29th Annual Greek Festival—I’d forgotten all about this awesome Pleasant Street festival until I involuntarily listened to traditional Greek music all evening from my Spring Street apartment. This probably would’ve been a lot cooler had I actually been at the festival, rather than lying on my couch with a glass of chardonnay and a box of Raisinets trying to watch The Empire Strikes Back.*While I did not go, a good friend of mine did and she stopped by my place afterwards, positively glowing from her Lamb Souvlaki and rice pilaf. It really made me question the frozen pizza and bagged Caesar salad I’d opted for earlier in the evening. This festival resumes today at the Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church on Pleasant Street from 11:30 am to 9:30 pm, and again at the same place and time tomorrow. It’s a great way to try some delicious food, listen to different music, and dance your heart out. There are tents so you won’t melt from the rain, but I suggest bringing an umbrella—and galoshes so you can splash around in the puddles while you get jiggy with it Greek style…
*Probably a lot of things are cooler than that, huh?
Allagash Victoria Ale Premiere—Beer lovers: tonight from 5 to 8 at the Victoria Mansion celebrate Allagash’s 2011 Victoria Ale. This event features live music from the Pete Kilpatrick Band, self-guided tours of the mansion, and some light dining fare provided by Blue Elephant Catering. Tickets are $25 at the door. This is a great opportunity for a group outing, or a date; it’s a pretty smooth move to take a girl (or guy) here on the first date. Elegant beer tasting and dining in a historic mansion on a “dark and stormy” night? You’ve got that in the bag. Plus, it’s really an interesting way to start your weekend.
Hands Across the Sand at The East End Beach—I know, I know. In the beginning of this post, I sarcastically made comments about the “excellent” beach weather this weekend was sure to have; however, this beach event is not really about getting your tan on and showing off your new bikini body. Hands Across the Sand is a movement that’s going on throughout the world. People will be taking hands on beaches across the globe at noon tomorrow to stand in solidarity against the threats of offshore drilling. If this sounds like your thing, grab your raincoat and head to the East End Beach tomorrow morning at 11:30. This event is about protecting our shores and supporting clean energy. Though it may not be the beach day you had in mind for your first weekend of summer, it might make you feel good to be a part of something this large. Check out the website for more information
Portland LobsterFest—Speaking of offshore drilling, Governor LePage* will be one of the judges at Saturday’s Great Maine Lobster Eating Contest, which is just part of the fun at the 2011 Portland LobsterFest. Starting at 11 am this Saturday, June 25, the third annual festival is sponsored by Fairpoint Communications and is presented by the Falmouth Rotary. The proceeds will benefit the Maine Children’s Cancer Program, so buy that $12.50 lobster dinner—it’s a pretty sweet price and it goes to the kids, darn it! After you’ve filled your belly with bottom feeders, check out the live music from The Stream Reggae, Typhoon Ferri, and the David Good Trio. If you later regain your appetite, there’s going to be a Gourmet Lobster Tasting Bar—we’re talking Lobster Pizza, Lobster Cakes, Lobster Bisque, Lobster Stew (do I sound like Bubba from Forrest Gump yet?) and other delectable Lobster treats. The festival also has a cash bar, and a mechanical bull. My advice: ride the bull before you hit the bar. No need to ruin your summer with a drunken mechanical bull injury.  While it may be rainy and not particularly warm tomorrow, lobster, music, beer, and mechanical bulls are sure to turn any frown upside down. Get into the summer spirit, even if the weather won’t. Have fun, be safe, and just hope that Gov. LePage doesn’t find any murals to remove in his short visit to Portland.*
*Only and last political barb of this post
*I lied—that was another political barb. Oops.
As previously mentioned, I will be working Sunday so I don’t want anyone else to have any fun. However, since I guess it will be nice out, maybe you can go to the beach or something. Or check out Reggae Sunday on Peaks Island. I don’t know. I don’t care. I hope you can’t find your bathing suit and have to swim in a t-shirt.
I am well aware that it is not a holiday weekend and that Monday, despite my own wishes, is indeed not normally part of the weekend. However, I do have this particular Monday off, so just go with it. Furthermore, it’s going to be nice out. Plus, it’s summer so all sorts of cool things are going on in Portland even when it’s not the weekend.
Pai Men Miyake—I have blogged about Masa Miyake’s noodle bar before, and that’s because it’s awesome. This particular mention has been added because my beloved Pai Men is finally getting their liquor license Monday, June 27. I am not the biggest hard liquor drinker, however, I do enjoy a cocktail now and again, and I know many Portlanders can get behind that. While I appreciate the interesting beers they carry and their wide array of sakes, I am looking forward to the possibility of a gin and tonic if the mood strikes. As of Monday, Pai Men will be serving some creative and fun summer cocktails. Try the Green Tea Gimlet with their amazing lobster ceviche. Even if you went to LobsterFest Saturday and think you don’t need to eat any more lobster for a good long while, try this ceviche! You won’t be disappointed. For those whiskey drinkers out there, you’ll be pleased to taste Pai Men’s take on the classic cocktail: come Monday, they’ll be introducing their Maine Blueberry Manhattan. Monday night you can find me at the bar, savoring my ceviche and sipping on the Gimlet. I hope to see you there.

So now that I’ve scheduled your entire weekend for you, take Monday night (after you go to Pai Men) to get a good night’s sleep. You’ll need it; summer is here (despite what looking out your window tells you), and there is bound to be all kinds of activities going on in Portland for the next few months. Until next time…

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Creative Impotence

For all twelve of you that read this (the majority of which are related to me or to my boyfriend) you may have noticed this two month hiatus I’ve taken. While I am not notorious for much of anything, let alone reliable blogging, this has been the longest I’ve gone since I began forcing my very important opinions onto the unsuspecting readers of the interwebs. Though I’d like to say I’ve been busy traveling Europe, taking in new experiences, and living life the fullest, I’ve actually just been sitting around, feeling sorry for myself about where my “writing life” is going—nowhere. Like most full-time employed “adults,” at the end of a long work day  I am tired, grumpy, hungry, and more inclined to watch four hours straight of other people’s creativity on 30 Rock rather than try to come up with something of my own.  If you’re a creative person, you most likely understand the rut this routine can become: before you know it, the laptop is literally gathering dust (no seriously, cleaning this thing off required a mask and a lot of Claritin) and the deli below your apartment is thriving from all the Crunch ‘n Munch business you’ve been giving them.  In the past few months I drank approximately 27 root beer floats, used my old college email to get one free month of Hulu Plus, cried when my crappy internet connection interrupted Netflix, watched two full seasons of 24, and wrote absolutely nothing. 
As much as I’d like to continue turning this blog into a LiveJournal entry, there is a punch line to all this self-pity.  I’ve come out of my creative impotence, or at least am actively looking for an inspirational Viagra to help me come out of it, and have woken up to all the creativity that’s constantly buzzing around self-involved whiny me in this very cool seaside city. Portland has really come to thrive on the arts. There’s an entire community not just of writers, but of musicians, painters, dancers. And while not everyone can write something, sing something, make something, there’s the overwhelming support of Portland's many art appreciators. For me to sit around, borderline-crying to reruns of Dawson’s Creek (God, I did a lot of bad TV watching these past months) and lamenting over my inability to get my imaginative shit together, is just pathetic. And as my friend Caroline knows, if there is one adjective I would wish never to be called, it’s pathetic. Ugly I can handle—I had headgear, acne, and bangs so hairsprayed they literally cracked in middle school.  Stupid is even OK. We’re all a little stupid sometimes—just yesterday I asked my boyfriend what sports team the “Cong Rats” were when I saw a car parked outside the Bonny Eagle High School graduation at the Civic Center which read “CONGRATS 2011.” But pathetic? I don’t think so. Therefore, I’ve picked myself up off the futon, and am re-emerging into the creative life, at the risk of making a fool of myself. Whether I have to listen to criticisms for my poor choice of syntax, receive rejection letters, or deal with whatever other trials any aspiring writer faces, at least I won’t be pathetic. Maybe. I hope.
So, if you’re self-involved enough to think you’re creative, rock on. Here’s a few cool things happening in the near future in Portland that encourage Maine writers to keep on truckin’. For all you dudes cruising for ladies out there, these readings, book signings, etc. are really a great way to meet insecure women with bad high school memories and daddy issues. Jokes, jokes. But actually, it is a wonderful way to network and get inspired for your own writing. I am personally going to make it my mission to get my tired ass down to many of these, so I encourage any of you who are interested in what the Maine writing community has to offer to show up as well. To return to television, because that’s all I seem to have in my head these days, maybe Red Forman had it right: sometimes to get shit done, all we need is a swift kick in the ass. 
(Disclaimer: I took all these events from the Maine Writers and Publishers Alliance I did not re-write the write-ups because I thought the original ones pretty much summed everything up perfectly. I repeat: I did not write these. I said I was looking for my inspriational Viagra, I did not say I'd found it yet. Baby steps.)
Wednesday, June 15 at 7 PM Join the University of New England’s Add Verb Productions for a reading and book signing of its first book, Out & Allied Anthology, featuring youth-written monologues, short plays and poems at Longfellow Books in Portland. The material focuses on the experiences of LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Questioning) youth and the importance of allies. Included is a guide for directing, producing, and writing original pieces and other resources. FMI or contact Cathy Plourde, Director Add Verb Productions 207-221-4493 office/ 207-653-4554 cell.

Friday, June 17 at 12PM Helen Rivas-Rose reads from her new memoir Brave about overcoming shyness at the Portland Public Library's new Friday afternoon series, downstairs in meeting room 5.

Thursday, June 23 at 7PM Maureen Stanton reads from her brand new book, Killer Stuff and Tons of Money: Seeking History and Hidden Gems in Flea-market America at Longfellow Books in Portland. FMI

Saturday, June 25 at 12PM Join Caitlin Shetterly for a very special book-signing event at Salt Water Farm in Lincolnville with Annemarie Ahearn. A three-course meal—based on the food in Shetterly’s memoir Made For You and Me: Going West, Going Broke, Finding Home—is being offered for $45 per person. Seating is limited. FMI

Saturday, June 18 at 7PM Join the celebration at Mayo Street Arts for the inauguration of newly appointed Portland Poet Laureate Bruce Spang. Megan Grumbling will emcee the evening, the Gay Men's Chorus will perform, and poets Annie Finch and Russ Sargent will also read. FMI
*Side note: I know this isn't in Portland, but I included it anyway because Lincolnville is beautiful, only two hours away, and this event sounded way too cool to leave out.

Saturday, July 9 from 12:30PM to 3:30PM The sixth annual Books in Boothbay: Maine's Summer Book Fair (formerly Books & Blooms) will be held at Boothbay Railway Village in scenic Boothbay on Rte. 27 South. The event is cosponsored by and benefits the Boothbay Harbor Memorial Library and the Boothbay Railway Village. Forty authors from around the state will attend to sign their books, discuss their writing, and meet their fans. The event is free. Confirmed authors include: Charlotte Agell, Elizabeth Tova Bailey, Crash Barry, Liza Blakewell, Cheryl Blaydon, Sarah Braunstein, Holly Chamberlain, Richard Shain Cohen, Melissa Coleman, Susan Conley, Katherine Davis, Sandra Dutton, Cathryn Falwell, Adreana Hamlin, Hannah Holmes, Shonna Miliken Humphrey, Lily King, Cynthia Lord, Tammy LR Meserve, Lillian Nayder, James Nelson, Jim Nichols, Maria Padian, Van Reid, Michael S. Sanders, Caitlin Shetterly, Susan Hand Shetterly, Julia Spencer-Fleming, Jim Taliana, Harrison Thorp, Lea Wait, and Val Walker. FMI

I know this last one is also not in Portland. I included it for four reasons: Boothbay is amazing, especially in the summer. It's a nice little drive up the coast. It's free. And, Book Fairs are awesome. I hope to see some of you at a few of these events this June. Until next time...and hopefully that's not another full two months away.