Thursday, November 13, 2014

Fall Botanicals: Tips for Arranging Floral Patterns

Earlier this fall during my annual cleanup of the gardens, I began putting some of the colorful leaves, blossoms, and berries into a basket.  Their shapes and textures were so beautiful that I decided I needed to do something more memorable than just plunking them into a mason jar to keep on the windowsill for a few days.

Using a worn old tablecloth as my makeshift backdrop, I arranged torn petals from marigolds, nasturtiums, and hydrangeas into simple medallion shapes on my picnic table.  I combined them with tiny pinecones and whatever else I could find in the yard, and then I grabbed my iPhone and snapped a few shots of the various arrangements.

I had to work quickly, as it was a chilly afternoon, and my fingers were growing numb, but I found that the more fanciful I got with the arrangements, the more I was loving them.  Later that evening, safely inside with a cup of Earl Grey, I processed the photos on my laptop and then shared a few of them in a post here on the blog, as well as on Instagram and Facebook.

I was quite surprised and touched by people's reactions.  Some folks even emailed to say that they thought I should turn the images into greeting cards.  I've been making and photographing more of the arrangements since then, and I had some prints done on Shutterfly.  I'm on the hunt now for some vintage gilded frames so I can hang the prints in our guest bedroom.

Today, as I worked on the latest in my "Autumn Gatherings" series, I took photos of the steps as I went along so I could share the process with you.  This isn't really a tutorial, since anyone can arrange flowers in beautiful patterns, but I have discovered a few tips along the way that really work for me, and I hope they may be helpful for someone else trying this.

First, the background is key.  If you want your arrangement to have a sort of vintage, nostalgic look, it's  helpful to begin with a vintage background.  Today I used this wrinkled, worn, and faded piece of Irish linen that I've had for years.  The colors of the flowers printed on it are just right as a backdrop to autumn leaves and branches.  (In fact, I used this same fabric as the background for my Artful Blogging post.)

Next, I gathered from our yard whatever flowers, berries, twigs, leaves, cones, and seed pods struck my fancy.  If your backyard happens to be more of a wooded forest, be careful, as some plants can be poisonous. 

Here in Maine, we're deep into autumn, but I still have a few hardy flowers blooming in my garden beds and in the pots on my front porch, so these were musts for me, plus some scarlet runner beans left on my arbor, and the last of the husk cherries in their lovely paper-lantern shells.  Various shrubs and woody perennials provided lots of great material, too.  The most important thing is to find an interesting range of textures, shapes, and sizes.  The colors this time of year tend to be fairly easy to harmonize.

Now that it's getting really chilly out, it's easier to work inside, so once I'd gathered my materials and placed any tender stems in water to stay fresh while I was working, I stationed myself on a large table on my sun porch, which was ideal, as it gets flooded with a particularly lovely warm, golden late afternoon sunlight this time of year.  

I began by playing with colors and shapes.  I tend to lean toward ovals and circles for my designs, but other shapes would, of course, be beautiful, too.  What I love about making medallion shapes is that you can have a beautiful, useable shot at almost any point in the assembly process.  If you want something as simple as the above mini pumpkin surrounded by geranium leaves, this would be nice as is.  You could move right on to cropping and processing the photo from here.  

I found myself smitten with this sweet little robin's nest that had fallen from one of the mock oranges bordering our yard.  I would never steal a nest from birds, but I do collect the windfall nests that I find on our property every autumn--or you could fashion a little nest yourself from twigs and moss.  This one just seemed like a perfect centerpiece for my medallion.

I love varying textures, shapes and colors, and then repeating certain ones for effect.  Once I had placed the yellow flower (the last one of the year from my porch planter) in the center of the nest, I knew that I would want to pick up on that yellow and accentuate it.  So, I simply played with possibilities.

Lamb's ears are particularly wonderful because of their silver-green color, their spear shape, and their fuzzy texture.  I love them contrasted with the azalea leaves that I've laid on top of them; the azalea's leathery texture and its burgundy color contrast beautifully with the lamb's ears, but both plants are the same basic shape, so there's some repetition, too, which is always pleasing to the eye.  The dark purple leaves radiating out from beneath the geranium leaves are from one of my many forsythias.  They repeat the same shape, but offer yet another color.  Plus, as yellow's complementary color, purple is a great back layer.  

As with any creative process, a huge part of it is trial and error for me.  I tried adding bits of pink begonia blossoms along with the purple and pink scarlet runner beans, but then the whole thing started feeling just a wee bit Easter-y, so I scrapped that idea and continued on.  This time I used much more autumnal petals of orange marigolds and red nasturtiums.

In the photo above I felt I was nearly finished, but I wanted one more layer to give it a sense of blooming out almost beyond the borders of the frame.  

My final step was to add some lavender leaves to the outer tips of the forsythias.  They pick up on the silver of the lamb's ears, and they also repeat the shapes of the central flower blossom petals.  I love that not all the leaves in the image are exactly the same size, and I never fuss over making things exactly symmetrical.  Perfectly imperfect suits my eye and temperament much more.

Finally, when it comes to processing the photos, I tend to play with lightening the exposure just a little bit.  I also sometimes blur the edges of the image, as I've done in the photo above.  Many of you are incredible photographers and much more brilliant than I at photo processing.  If you're newer to it, you don't even need to be a Photoshop expert.  Try using a simple online photo processor.  Most of them have loads of ways to give your photos a vintage look.  Or, simply snap away on your phone and use a processing app to get wonderful results.  If you want to see live examples of how others process their photos, YouTube is always a great teaching tool.  The version below is finished off with a final texture layered over the top of the image.  The texture is a photograph of another piece of old linen, which, once processed, gives an even more vintage look to the image.

Before I have Shutterfly print up my next round of photos (and my first batch of "Autumn Gatherings" greeting cards), I'll likely play with each image a little more, tweaking it until I'm satisfied with the results.  For me, the most important aspect of making this series is how much fun it is to create beautiful patterns from the bits and pieces I've gathered from my own backyard.  Now I can hardly wait to make the "Winter Gatherings" series.  I'm already imagining the dreamy Christmas cards.  Holly, pine, and arborvitae, here I come!

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Thanksgiving Inspiration

The Beloved Peanuts Thanksgiving

I LOVE Thanksgiving.  Longtime readers of The Magpie's Fancy know that I'm not a fan of Black Friday . . . and that I am completely against the idea of going shopping on Thanksgiving Day itself.  I doubt that I have to explain why, but I will say that I am still an old-fashioned believer in devoting a day to giving thanks for all the blessings that we already have.  Period.  

I also think that the Christmas season has become so overblown and so darn long that it is about to completely obliterate Thanksgiving altogether.  This year, most of the stores in our area began putting their Christmas displays out before Halloween, and by now they are completely decked out in Yuletide finery.  I really love decorating for Christmas come December 1st or so.  Call me a Scrooge, but I need that month's separation between my candy corns and my candy canes.

Therefore, I'm slowing things down and taking one holiday at a time.  And I'm finding loads of Thanksgiving inspiration everywhere I turn, so I thought I'd share a few links that might inspire you, too, whether you celebrate American Thanksgiving or you just want to enjoy the beauty of autumn a little longer.

Photo Credit: Michael Graydon & Nicole Herriot from Bon Appetit
First, there's all that glorious food to consider.  And where better to turn for inspiration than Bon Appetit?  I picked up their Thanksgiving issue just before hopping on a plane in Pittsburgh this past week, and I found myself salivating as I turned the pages.  If the perfect mashed potatoes have always eluded you, check out their guide to making gorgeous and delicious potatoes.  Mr. Magpie makes them for us all year round, and he always uses Yukon Golds, as Bon Appetit recommends here in the guide.  Who knew he was such a brilliant cook?  I did, actually, because he makes my favorite potatoes in the world!

And this pie.  This is the one I'm dreaming of.  Luckily, Mr. M's birthday and Thanksgiving both fall in November, and Mr. M prefers pie to cake.  That means I have two excuses to make pie.  Maybe I'll also make this one . . . just for the sake of being thorough.  You know what they say: "a pie in the hand is worth two in the bush". . . or is it "a stitch in time saves pie?"  "You are the apple of my pie?"  "Pie.  It's what's for dinner."  That last one is what we say in this house.

I think this photo was originally from The Lexington Company.  If I'm wrong, please let me know!     
While it's far too cold in this part of the country to eat outdoors at Thanksgiving, I love the mood of the photo above.  Simple, elegant, and cozy.  A table to linger over long after the meal has ended.  Only inside.  With pie.

From Terrain

I'm also loving the colors and textures of the newest autumn offerings at Terrain.  Their catalog is always a wonderful mix of natural fibers and products inspired by forests and fields.  I have some of those Stargazer lights pictured here, by the way, and they are incredibly pretty!  No ugly cords, plus soft, warm light.  I have to admit, though, that I bought mine much cheaper.  Definitely shop around for the best price!  You can find ones that plug in or some that are battery powered, which would be perfect for table and mantle decorations.

Closer to home, I'm taken by the beautiful displays at some of my favorite local shops in Portland, Maine, especially this one and this one, run by wonderful friends with unerring eyes for beauty, function, and enduring style.  

And finally, this year, Thanksgiving comes after a particularly challenging election season.  Here in Maine, I was disheartened by the election results--and, perhaps more importantly, by the campaigns leading up to those results.  I was also disappointed to learn that on the national level, 2014 had the lowest voter turnout in any election since World War II.  Less than 40% of eligible voters went to the polls, and only 13% of voters ages 18-30 showed up to cast their ballots.  Like so many Americans, I am proud to live in a democracy, but a democracy is only as strong as its citizenry makes it, and I fear for the future of ours.  The Thanksgiving we celebrate here in the U.S. gives us an opportunity to reflect not only on our own blessings, but on what it means to us to be Americans, and on the legacy handed down to us by our forefathers and mothers.  Here is a brief exploration on of the history of Thanksgiving, as well as a few passages from poems about the holiday.  

If you celebrate Thanksgiving, how will you be celebrating this year?  Maybe with a little pie?  ;)  Do you have any recipe links or other Thanksgiving thoughts/inspiration you'd like to share?  Please feel free in the comments!

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Giveaway Winner and the Garden in November

I'm thrilled to announce that the winner of the Artful Blogging Giveaway is Susan from Windrock Studio!  Thank you to everyone who entered, and to those who sent emails and notes as well!  You are what makes blogging matter to me, and I'm so grateful that we found each other.

These photos are of the last few marigolds that I gathered from my garden yesterday as Mr. Magpie and I raked and began putting the gardens to bed for the winter.  We've had flowers blooming up until the snowstorm (yes, snowstorm) that hit us over Halloween weekend, so I've been hesitating to really clean up the beds or cut anything back.  Besides, I tend to leave as much as possible to overwinter as it stands so that the birds will have seed heads for eating. Plus, I love the look of the browning stalks as the snows begin to come.  I believe winter gardens have an austere beauty of their own.

Still, it's fun to gather up armfuls of the last annuals and the last herbs for drying, so I brought in huge bunches of beauties yesterday, and these marigolds just looked especially marigold-y against our newly painted bedroom floor, so they got to feature in a mini photo shoot.

As I worked in the garden, I remembered a poem by Jane Hirshfield that I love, so I thought I'd share it with you here:

November, Remembering Voltaire

In the evenings
I scrape my fingernails clean,
hunt through old catalogues for new seed,
oil work boots and shears.
This garden is no metaphor –
more a task that swallows you into itself,
earth using, as always, everything it can.
I lend myself to unpromising winter dirt
with leaf-mold and bulb,
plant into the oncoming cold.
Not that I ever thought the philosopher
meant to be taken literally,
but with no invented God overhead
I conjure a stubborn faith in rotting
that ripens into soil,
in an old corm that flowers steadily each spring –
not symbols but reassurances,
like a mother’s voice at bedtime
reading a long-familiar book, the known words
barely listened to, but bridging
for all the nights of a life
each world to the next.

Jane Hirshfield, from Of Gravity & Angels, 1983

More soon, my friends.  xo Gigi

Saturday, November 1, 2014

The Gifts of Blogging: A Publication and a Giveaway

Happy November!  Here in Maine it has started off just as any self-respecting November should: with bone-chilling cold and torrents of rain.  I don't mind one bit, as this gives me the excuse to drink cups and cups of chocolate yerba mate latte, and to sit down with the latest copy of Artful Blogging.  For years I've looked to the pages of this gorgeous magazine for inspiration and community, so it's with giddy joy that I get to share the news with you that my writing and photos are featured in this issue.  And I'm even more excited to tell you that to celebrate, I'm giving away one free copy of Artful Blogging to a reader of The Magpie's Fancy!  Read below for more details about how you can enter the giveaway.  

Somebody pinch me.  What a thrill to see my work included with so many talented bloggers, writers, artists, and photographers.  I was especially over the moon to learn that two of my blogging friends, Kim Klassen and Beth Mcwilliams, are in this same issue!  That makes the whole experience all the sweeter.  

I've been writing and publishing for more than two decades, but this particular publication means more to me than most, because when I started blogging six years ago, I had no idea that it would become such an important part of my life.  I write a bit about that journey, and about how the more I played and experimented with photography (a real trial by fire), the more I couldn't tell where writing ended and photography began for me.  Each inspires the other so much now that I can't imagine not doing both.  I hope my article will give other writers and bloggers some inspiration for their own work--where to begin and how to enjoy the process along the way.

There is one other reason that this publication means so much: simply put, I had nearly given up blogging when the editors at Artful Blogging contacted me about doing a feature.  It wasn't that I had stopped loving writing posts or that I no longer wanted to connect with readers and fellow bloggers.  It was that feeling that I've heard so many writers and bloggers talk about of being pulled in too many directions by social media, by work, by family, and life's many other obligations.  

The early years of blogging had been straightforward, but now I felt like once I had published a post, I needed to share it on Facebook, Tweet about it, Instagram it, Link to it on Flickr, and otherwise communicate in every way humanly possible short of sending smoke signals to subscribers.  My old warm and friendly blogging community had become scattered over the years by the onslaught of social media.  We were doing our best to keep up with each other, but sometimes it was just overwhelming.

And so, I had cut back dramatically on posting.  I was working on writing and photography projects, and I didn't even realize that I was missing blogging.  And then I began work on the Artful Blogging piece.  It reminded me all over again of why I'd started to blog in the first place.  This place, this blog--this is pure joy for me.  Whether I have 10 or 10,000 readers, I get to write about and photograph the things that inspire me.  I get to connect with likeminded people.  And I get to read their stories, too.  I can't imagine a better reason to be here.

And so, as a gift of friendship and community--and of my heartfelt thanks for visiting me here--I'm offering a giveaway of this new Winter 2015 issue of Artful Blogging.  To register for the giveaway, simply leave a message on this post by Wednesday, November 5, at noon Eastern Standard Time.  

All are welcome to enter, wherever you live and whether this is your first time visiting or your 500th.  I know many of you prefer to send me emails or Facebook messages.  If you would, for this contest, please leave your message here on the post.  That way I can be sure to keep track of entries.  You don't need to type in one of those awful codes to prove you're not a robot.  Just leave your comment along with your name and an email address where I can reach you, and I'll see it and then approve it for publication.  Please let your friends know about the contest, too.  

If you've ever read Artful Blogging, you know what a truly gorgeous and inspiring publication it is.  If you don't want to wait for the contest, you can purchase your copy at any local bookstore that carries Stampington & Company publications in its magazine section, Barnes & Noble, or Books a Million.  You can also buy it directly from Stampington & Co.  

Thanks, as always, chickadees, for being so wonderful.  xo Gigi  

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Apples and Obsession

Thanks so much, my friends, for the warm and funny emails and Facebook messages about the Portland restaurant series.  I had a fantastic time compiling the lists, and I now apologize for making everyone so hungry!  I made myself hungry, too.  

Fortunately, I'd just bought lots of apples at Sweetser's Apple Barrel, so much snacking has been going on around here.  The ones in the photo above are Stayman Winesaps (early 19th-century variety), which, I won't lie, I bought simply so I could photograph them.  I think they're just gorgeous little apples.  It turns out that they're also good ones for storing, so I'll be able to eat those, too, once I'm done taking their portraits.  In the meantime, I've been eating big juicy Snow Apples (a very old French heirloom variety) and  Cortlands (a 19th-century variety from New York) and Brocks (Maine heirlooms from the early 20th century that are a cross between McIntosh and Golden Delicious).  

I also made an apple crisp from my old standby recipe, mixing the different varieties together.  It was delicious, but I found that I had to bake it longer than I normally do, which is always something to keep in mind when baking with different varieties of apples for the first time.  Some, like McIntoshes, break down quickly when baked.  Others hold their shape and crispness for much longer, so pie, crisp, and  apple sauce cooking time can vary quite a bit.  The extra time was a small price to pay for the apple crisp.  It had a depth and complexity of flavor that I've never achieved in a crisp before.  I also upped the nutmeg a wee bit, which I wouldn't normally do, since nutmeg can be overwhelming, but I took a chance based on the flavors of the raw apples as I sliced them for the crisp.  I'm glad I did.  The nutmeg took on an almost ginger-y quality against the golden delicious characteristics of the Brocks.

Can you tell that I really, really love apples?  Yes, my love borders on obsession.  So much so that I wrote a poem about them several years ago.  That poem was later published in Soundings East.  It's been a long time since I shared one of my poems here on the blog, but all this talk of apples has me feeling nostalgic, so here's the poem, which is also a bit of a creation myth, I suppose . . .


I learn apple before I am born:
my mother sits beneath a tree at Green Point Farm,
slicing crisp moons of McIntosh.
She teases them from the blade with her teeth,
filling her Rome Beauty belly.
A is for apple, she sings--
Sack and Sugars, Slack my Girdles,
Golden Knobs.
I kick in reply,
begin my hungry dance into life.

Over time we make pies, cider,
sauce.  Delicious, I learn,
aren't delicious at all, and crabs
are best for jelly.
When she reads me Snow White
I know why the girl craves the Queen's apple,
heart-red, white as her own skin--
biting in, she becomes a greater tale to tell.

A is for ask, appetite, apologize--
Eve and Aphrodite stand sorry before me
in the Children's Book of Ancient Stories,
apples in their upturned hands.
With a pencil I draw them: Eve's Incomparable,
Aphrodite's Perfection--fruits I will eat
until the basket is empty.

Brown snouts are bittersweet
for blending with Hangdowns and Golden Drops.
I can pare one in seconds,
say the alphabet while I twist the stem:
Who will I marry?  K or M?
I make a crust to catch him,
pack it full of Seek No Furthers,
bake it till the sugar runs,
wait for my prince to come.

A is for apple, answers, alone.
My mother shines Jonagolds with her coat sleeve,
teaches me to carve swans and crowns,
stud them with cloves, make tarts
from Grannys, butter from Ida Reds, dry
the Packhorses and Admirables
for apple dolls with black, beaded eyes
and the faces of wise
old women.

By Gigi Thibodeau

Monday, October 27, 2014

Supper and Dinner in Portland, Maine

"Unexpected Party" Illustration by David T. Wenzel.  Available here.
For the past several days I've been thinking and eating like a hobbit in order to list some of my favorite restaurants, bakeries, and coffee shops here in Portland, Maine.  I've wanted to compile a list like this for some time now, as I'm often asked by friends for food recommendations in Portland.  It's never easy.  This place is foodie heaven.  I figured that breaking it down into the seven meals that Pippin lists in The Lord of the Rings would give me a chance to include more of the places I love as well as to be as specific as possible about what makes me love these places. Today I'm up to the last two meals, Supper and Dinner.  

"It was at this point that Bilbo stopped. Going on from there was the bravest thing he ever did" (The Hobbit, Chapter 12). 

I'm going to try to be brave as a hobbit as I attempt to list both meals in this post.  Supper will be restaurants that I tend to visit on the early side; Dinner will be places that are open later or that are perfect for a late-night snack.  Within each category the restaurants are listed in no particular order.  These lists are not all-inclusive.  If I were to list all my favorites, these lists would be at least twice as long!

  1. Grace  This is one of the most beautiful restaurants in Portland.  Located in a former church, Grace is elegant and lively at the same time.  The perfect spot for a romantic dinner or for incredibly creative drinks at the gorgeous bar.  Go here if you want lovely food in a memorable atmosphere.
  2. East Ender  I think this bustling two-floor bistro gets overlooked by some folks.  It is one of my favorite places to go for comfort food and a friendly atmosphere.  Mr. Magpie and I order the lobster nachos (think loads of lobster, avocado, cheddar, salsa, and sour cream) to split, and then I get a salad with calamari for dinner.  Perfect.  They also have fun house drink specials, like the strawberry-rhubarb pie martini.  Yum.
  3. Schulte & Herr  Everything at this tiny German restaurant is homemade, including the delicious breads.  On a recent visit with friends, I tried the spatzle, with caramelized onions, emmenthal cheese, chives, & cucumber salad, which was hearty and filling, but with beautifully balanced flavors.  Another real standout for me is the zwiebelkuchen, a caramelized onion & gruyere tart that is simply one of the best things I've eaten at a restaurant in a long time.  If you like salmon, try the potato pancakes with house-cured salmon.  This dish will change any preconceptions some might have about German food being too heavy.        
  4. Veranda Noodle Bar  This place has my favorite peanut sauce in town, so I always, always always order the fresh spring rolls here.  And sometimes a little extra peanut sauce.  :)  This is the place to come for fresh, Vietnamese food.  It's just off the peninsula on Veranda Street, so it's a bit of a hidden gem.  We go here for the noodle bowls.  The one I find myself ordering time and again is the grilled shrimp vermicelli bowl.  The shrimp are marinated in a tumeric-flavored sauce and then grilled until slightly blackened.  
  5. Becky's Diner  I hesitate to include Becky's on this list, not because I don't love this diner, because I do love this diner.  This place has been featured on a certain Food Network show that shall remain nameless, and I have to say that shows like this kind of ruin places for locals.  I'm sure people all over the country share this same problem when their favorite diners--the places they've been going to for more years than they can remember--get featured on TV.  Suddenly, we can no longer get a table, especially during the summer.  Such is life.  We still go here, we just wait until the tourist season ends, and I usually get the broiled haddock or the broiled scallops for dinner.  This is simple, fresh, homemade Maine food.  Nothing fancy.  Mr. M and I sit at the counter.  Sometimes we even break our no soda rule and order a Pepsi.  Sounds crazy, I know.  We like to live dangerously.  
  6. Green Elephant  After the guilty pleasure of a buttery grilled fish dinner at Becky's, Green Elephant is just what the doctor ordered.  Everything at this Asian-inspired bistro is vegetarian, but I promise, meat eaters will love it, too.  Definitely order the brussel sprouts appetizer for everyone to share.  These little gems are as close to candy as a vegetable can get.  If you think you hate brussel sprouts, give these a try anyway.  If anything will change your mind, these will. I've loved every main dish I've ever tasted here.  One of my favorites is the pineapple brown rice.   I also love the peanut curry.
  7. Saeng Thai House  Our number one spot for take-out!  We also like to eat in at this tiny Thai bistro.  The food is reliably delicious, and I can't think of nicer waitstaff in town.  High up on our list of favorite items are the bikini shrimp appetizer--golden wontons wrapped around shrimp and fresh ginger, then fried and served with a sweet and spicy chili sauce.  My favorite main dish is the special pad thai basil.  It has ruined all other pad thai for me, as this is so much more interesting!    
  8. Walter's  I liked Walter's back in the days when it was on Exchange Street in the Old Port, but since its move a few years ago to very different, decidedly more upscale digs, I think the food has improved dramatically.  My family and I go for the bar menu, which balances creative takes on comfort food with some truly inventive dishes.  The menu changes seasonally, and I especially love the warm ambience here after a chilly afternoon of Christmas shopping in the Old Port.
  9. Back Bay Grill  This is the restaurant we chose to celebrate our anniversary this year, and it was absolutely the perfect choice.  This place was here long before Portland became a famous foodie destination, and I believe it will be here long after trendier places have closed.  The service is impeccable--the very best I've had in Portland--and the food is wonderful.  When you look up Portland restaurants online, this place always winds up very near the top of the list--and deservedly so.  
  10. JP's Bistro  Our neighborhood bistro.  Hearty dishes and incredible homemade desserts in a friendly, warm atmosphere.  It's located well off the peninsula, so tourists never go here, which suits us just fine.  If you decide to be adventurous and go looking for JP's, don't let the fact that it's located in a tiny strip mall put you off.  You'll love the seafood dishes, and seriously, save room for dessert.  Holy moly.
  11. The Front Room  I mentioned this place once before on another list, but I need to include it here, too.  Portlanders know and mostly love Chef Harding Lee Smith's "Rooms" restaurants.  For me, it's always the Front Room that brings me back (with occasional visits to the lovely Corner Room).  Think homemade everything in a noisy, darkened neighborhood bistro.  I crave mussels and gnocchi when I come here, along with lots of crusty bread.  I also crave cedar-plank salmon with pumpkin goat cheese risotto.  Oh, and white cheddar grits.  Pure comfort.  
  12. Flatbread  Honestly, this is my favorite pizza in town.  I do love OTTO, but the spicy sauce at Flatbread wins me over.  Plus the big wood-burning oven, the funky-hippy vibe, and the views of the ferries as they come and go to the islands.  I know Flatbread is sort of a mini-chain, and I've been to nearly all their other locations, but the one in Portland happens to be my favorite.  Lucky me.  On Monday nights they've always got music, and the place just hops.  Plus, and this is huge for me, they make an incredible salad with mixed greens, carrots, celery, sesame seeds, and seaweed.  Sounds odd, but tastes divine.  I get it with local blue cheese on top.  Then I dip my flatbread in the light vinaigrette dressing. 
  13. Caiola's  I've mentioned Caiola's once before, but it's worth mentioning again.  It's very neighborhood-y as in West End neighborhood-y, and the food's just fantastic.  Whatever else you get, please do order the polenta fries.  You won't be sorry.  
The menu on the wall at Otto

  1.  OTTO Pizza  I almost feel like I don't need to mention OTTO.  Everyone in these parts knows OTTO.  Incredible pizza with truly wonderful toppings.  I think their mashed potato, bacon, and scallion is probably the most famous.  I'm a fan of the butternut squash,  ricotta, and cranberry.  There are several OTTO locations now in greater Portland and Boston, but I still love the original best.  We go here for slices after seeing a live show at the State on a summer night.  They also make a good caesar salad, so Mr. M and I often split one and then each have a slice or two.  Perfect date night! 
  2.  Boda  This is where Mr. M took me to celebrate my birthday recently.  Why?  Because I love Thai food, and Boda's creative, street-style Thai cuisine is consistently good, consistently fresh, and consistently fun to eat.  On my birthday, the standout dish was the curried mussels, with a rich, coconut-milk broth and a side of sticky rice to soak it all up.  
  3.  Nosh  Yes, Nosh makes the list twice.  It's a great place for late-night eats.  Period.  Go to a show, then go here.  And, as I said before, you must order the fries.  You simply must.
  4. The North Point  Delicious cocktails, sangria, and lovely cheese and meat platters.  That's what you'll find here, along with a wonderful, warm atmosphere.  Portland has many, many trendy hipster bars these days, but this isn't one of them.  Tucked into a little spot on picturesque Silver Street, this is a perfect spot for dinner and movie or for meeting friends after work.    
  5. Great Lost Bear  I've been going here since my undergraduate days in the late 80's.  This is as local as local gets.  They have seventy-eight beers on tap.  No, that's not a typo.  They really do, plus great comfort food.  Try the chili.  They've got one with meat and one without.  I get the veggie chili, and it's the kind of stick-to-your ribs bowl of comfort that I often crave in the winter.  The Great Lost Bear is also famous for their burgers, and I love their fish sandwiches.  This place is dark, noisy, and just what Mainers need when we're feeling a little stir crazy in the dead of winter.  
  6. Silly's with a Twist  Truth be told, we come here pretty much anytime of day or night, but it can't be beat for a late dinner or even and after-dinner slice (slab, hunk) of delicious cake.  Silly's and the newer Silly's with a Twist right next door are two of the funkiest spots in town, and it doesn't get much more local than this.  The menu is huge and incredibly creative; the food definitely leans towards comfort, with large portions (we always end up taking half our meal home) and lots of cheesy, melty, gooey goodness.  I love the fabuffel burger (falafel doused in buffalo sauce), but I've tried many other dishes here, and I nearly always leave incredibly happy. They've got a huge list of both alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks, plus milkshakes (hello, chocolate-pretzel shake), and one of the nicest staffs in town.  
  7. Local 188  Boisterous and bohemian, Local 188 is the perfect place to go after a film or for late-night tapas with friends.  I really think this is one of the restaurants that kicked off the huge wave of foodie havens in Portland, and it is still very much going strong.  Like so many of the other restaurants listed here, this is a popular brunch spot, too.  
  8. J's Oyster Bar  Extremely local joint down on the waterfront.  Dive bar that also happens to have great oysters and chowders.  I know everyone is raving about Hipster Eventide, and I get it, but I'm still partial to some of the old school spots like J's and Port Hole.  It's the Mainer in me, and the townie girl.  I won't apologize for it.  
  9. Gorgeous Gelato  Technically not a restaurant really, but still, this place is always in the number one spot for Portland restaurants on Trip Advisor.  And with very good reason.  The owners are from Italy.  The gelato is made fresh every day.  I was just in Italy for two weeks earlier this year, where I ate gelato for fourteen days straight.  Gorgeous gelato is as good as the best gelato I had in Italy.  For me, nothing is better than their wild berry, but I also love many other flavors, including, of course, pistachio, made with Sicilian pistachios.   
  10. Gelato Fiasco  How can I mention the competition on the same list?  Because their gelato is also incredible.  I think that the recipe at Gorgeous is creamier, but the variety of flavors at Fiasco can't be beat.  My favorite?  Sweet Resurgam, named after Portland's motto and made with roasted almond, burnt sugar, chocolate chips, caramel.  I think there's a wee joke in the burnt sugar and roasted almond, as resurgam means "I rise," referring to Portland's resurgence after three major fires throughout its history.  In fact, in the great fire of 1866, one of the buildings that famously burned was a sugar factory.  Oh, those folks at Gelato Fiasco are rascals.  The really good news about these two gelateria is that they are located across the street from each other on Fore Street, and they are open late, so if you're out and about late in the Old Port on a Saturday night, you can do a little comparison with your friends at both shops.  

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Afternoon Tea

Delicious tea and work go hand in hand for me at Dobra Tea

Of all the categories in my hobbit list of meals, afternoon tea is quite possibly the only one that might be a bit more challenging to fulfill.  Portland, Maine, is not the best place in the world to go for cream tea.  When I want that, I hop on a plane and fly to England.  When I want a cup of very good tea in a wonderful atmosphere right here in Portland, I do have a few standout choices, which I'll list below.  

  1. Dobra Tea  This is our wintertime hangout.  I can't think of a place in Portland where I get more work done while enjoying a delicious beverage.  And they've just moved to a new location on upper Exchange Street that I will be checking out later this week.  The tea menu at Dobra is presented as a storybook, with full descriptions of the history and characteristics of each tea they serve.  Ordering a pot of tea here is a wonderful event to be savored.  My favorite is the sweetened Touareg, a mix of green tea and Moroccan mint.  It's incredibly smooth and calming, and I truly believe it helps me concentrate.  I often order the oxidized and fermented Chinese pu-er teas for their flavor as well as their health benefits. 
  2. Homegrown Tea  This place is well known throughout the region for their creative tea blends.  I  especially love their mood-lifting blends.  If you're headed up to Munjoy Hill, stop in at their shop on Congress Street.  In the summer, their lemon-Squeezer is my go-to choice with its mix of lemon balm, lemon verbena, lemongrass, thyme and dried lemon peel.
  3. Arabica  Yes, Arabica is a coffee shop, and yes they roast their own beans, and I do love their coffee, but I also go here quite often just to get a delicious cup of tea, and that's because they carry so many wonderful varieties, including a few from Homegrown Tea, but also Vermont Tea and Trading Co., Turnaround Tea, and Mountain Rose Herbs.  It's nice to go to a coffee shop and find interesting teas made with care, plus the atmosphere at Arabica is classic, old-school coffee house.  AND, the sell toast!  That's right, every day you can order toast made from Standard Baking Company bread.  Toast and tea.  It doesn't get more comforting than this.
Okay, my friends, the last post about favorite food spots in Portland, Maine, will be coming up tomorrow.  I'll include both dinner and supper, and while the list will be enticing, once again, it will NOT be all-inclusive.  It simply can't be.  There are too many incredible places in this city.  

I hope you're enjoying the lists and also finding them helpful.  I've received some really lovely emails and Facebook messages about them.  I've also been told that I am making people very, very hungry.  I have a solution; go to any one of the establishments listed in these posts!  :) 

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