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A Pitch Perfect Poach: Ceia Kitchen + Bar

18 Jan

January is traditionally a month for new adventures and hijinks. (Isn’t that one of those words you want to find an excuse to use sometime even it makes you feel like a cartoon super hero?) Last week, I started back at America’s Test Kitchen as a Social Media Intern with the Test Kitchen Feed. Moving from the buzz of the test kitchen to a primarily editorial role certainly constitutes change.

Another new venture? I had heard about a group of food bloggers in the city that call themselves, appropriately enough, the Boston Brunchers. I’d wanted to join in previously, and now seemed the perfect time to get involved. So when I saw the latest announcement posted on the Brunchers site, I promptly entered for a chance to win a FREE brunch at Newburyport’s Ceia Kitchen + Bar. NEWbury: yeah, see. It is a sign.

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A Happy New Year: 48 Hours of Food and Fun in Portland, Maine

7 Jan

Welcome back to the few but faithful readers who have followed the adventures of Tortefeaster, and welcome to any new readers that 2012 may bring to my door! Besides this constituting the year’s inaugural post, I’m writing on a particularly significant day for me. It is an anniversary of sorts, although not in the typical sense. Three years ago today is the day that I was laid off and the first day in a long process of rediscovering who I am and what I was meant to be “when I grow up.” At the time, believe me, I felt as if my world was crumbling, but after having made some rather  unconventional decisions, I couldn’t be happier with how I have redirected my career. I’m having so much fun now: I am living life, life is not living me.

It was a practially “balmy” 50 degrees in Portland on New Year’s Day (Image: Johnisha M. Levi)

New Year’s has always been a special time for me and my husband. We don’t celebrate Christmas (usually we end up spending a quiet day at the movies and either making dinner as normal, or grabbing some Thai or Chinese food at one of the few open establishments). Maybe for this reason, we love a good New Year’s eve celebration.

This year, we decided to head to Portland, Maine–a city that I had previously only spent a few hours in one night in September when we were staying in Ogunquit and made a brief dinner excursion.

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Experiencing the Meaning of Sofra: A Turkish Table in the Heart of Boston

16 Dec

Tuesday was precisely the kind of day that reaffirmed my decision to redirect my career course and cater to my culinary instincts (as if I ever had any serious doubts). I had registered for “The Flavors of Anatolia,” my second tasting/demonstration event at Boston University’s School of Gastronomy.

I came alone with only the vaguest ideas of what would transpire as part of the night’s event. I knew only that Turkish food and wine, as well as two luminaries in the Cambridge-Boston food scene, were involved, both of which were sufficient incentives to sign up. Whereas the Judith Jones event I previously attended was predominantly a speaking engagement, with a casual smattering of food and wine, Tuesday’s event was a feast. We arrived to white tablecloths with introductory mezes and wine on the table, with more to follow as the evening progressed. (I have to admit that I felt a little under-dressed!)

Shepherd’s Salad (Image: Johnisha M. Levi)

“The Flavors of Anatolia” was part of Boston’s month-and-a-half long celebration of Turkish culture. The annual Turkish festival, now in its sixteenth year, encompassed art exhibits, concerts, lectures, and of course, gastronomic presentations. This year’s theme was “Colors of Anatolia,” a tribute to the “diversity and richness of Turkish culture.” It was clear in catching snippets of conversation that the evening attendees included first timers like me, as well as both perennial attendees, those who have traveled to Turkey for either business or pleasure as well as Turkish-Americans.

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Diary of a New England Thanksgiving

28 Nov RoastingCarrots, Sweet Potatoes and Apples

2011 was the first year that I cooked an entire Thanksgiving, soup to tart. For the last couple of years, I had been preparing side dishes and desserts, and my mother would contribute the protein (a.k.a. the main event), along with candied sweet potatoes and some other enticing accompaniment like corn bread stuffing with turkey sausage and dried cherries.

This Thanksgiving, I wasn’t traveling, but I was cooking in my new apartment in a new/old city. What was I going to do to make the holiday memorable? I decided I was going to try mostly new recipes, with a few old standbys thrown in. I also knew that I wasn’t going to cook turkey.

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Anne of Green Gables: The Culinary Triumphs and Trials of a Titian-Haired Spitfire

30 Oct

Out of nostalgia, I started re-reading one of my favorite childhood books with one of my favorite heroines: L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables. I had lucked upon the reruns of the PBS miniseries earlier in the year while I was in culinary school. After watching Anne of Green Gables again, I was instantly smitten and had to Netflix Anne of Green Gables: The Sequel.  To this day, I can’t hear the words “Anne of Green Gables” without picturing the stunning, spirited and poised Canadian actress Megan Follows who played the series’ namesake. She truly embodied that role and somehow made “that Anne girl’s” maudlin speeches equal parts heartfelt and humorous. And when she broke that slate over the ever-dashing Jonathan Crombie’s (Gilbert Blythe’s) head, it was magic. I’ll show you CARROTS!!!

Of course, I can never forget the genius supporting performances of Colleen Dewhurst and Richard Farnswsorth. I’m 34 years old, and it still brings a tear to my eye when Matthew succumbs to a bad heart in the middle of a cow pasture and, gasping his last breath,  tells  Anne that he “is so proud of his little girl.” (Matthew’s demise in the novel is much less (melo)dramatic, but nevertheless deeply touching given its roots in financial woes.)

While reading AGG this time around, it occurred to me that a large part of Anne’s education and “civilization” in Prince Edward Island (the P.E.I.) revolved around learning the domestic arts of entertaining and cooking.

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Food Writing Worth Reading: What’s on My Bookshelf Now

11 Oct

One of my only regrets this summer was not finding enough time to read. It remains one of the great pleasures of my life. I still remember the long ago thrill at age six of being able to read myself  “a big kid’s book” (or one without a photo on every page). I had checked out Beverley Cleary’s Socks from the public library. I spent the remainder of the day reading through its 160 pages by myself. From that point, I knew I was hooked.

My internship this fall has certainly been demanding on a physical level; it makes me want to curl up even more with a good book at the close of a day. Or bring a book to read during my train commute; I spend just enough time on the T to get absorbed without fear of interruption. (Of course, this works even better on the D line where I am more likely to get a seat.)

The Harvard Bookstore (still going strong after more than 75 years in business) has become a bit of a haunt for the purpose of perusing new candidates. The basement is dedicated to an impressive array of used and remainder books, quite a few of which are food-related (everything from cookbooks to food memoirs). These days, I suppose you could have worse habits than buying used books; the place and its prices are hard to resist.

So here are a couple of recommendations based on my recent reading:

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Harvard Science & Cooking Lecture: Chef Grant Achatz Sets the Bar High

5 Oct

Last year as I was beginning culinary school in Charlotte, I read enviously about the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences’ inaugural course, “Science and Cooking: From Haute Cuisine to the Science of Soft Matter.”

Last Year’s Harvard Science & Cooking Lecture Schedule

The only food-related course I took while an undergraduate at the College was an excellent Food and Anthropology class taught by Dr. (now Professor Emeritus) James Watson. Watson is an ethnographer who studied South China for four decades. While he certainly peppered much of this core class offering with lessons from his research in China, I recall covering a range of cultures and issues. We were also able to choose our own topic for our major research paper. I wrote on the history of the bagel/its assimilation into the culinary mainstream of America and consequently spent some fun hours sleuthing in the culinary collection of Schlesinger Library.

But I digress . . . All this is to say that there was certainly no science of cooking curriculum during my college years; nor could I have dreamed of the possibility. When I learned that I would be interning in Boston this fall, I knew that I wanted to take advantage and attend the (free) public lecture series based on the Science and Cooking Harvard College General Education course. Culinary heavy hitters, including some chef deities, come for free every Monday and give us mere mortals a peek into their fantastic brains.

The Monday, October 3 lecture (entitled “Food Texture and Mouth Feel”) featured visionary chef  and author Grant Achatz. The topic of the night was Achatz’s ground-breaking, innovative cocktail bar, The Aviary, which he opened this year in Chicago’s meatpacking district.

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Rain or Shine: The Boston Local Food Festival Delivers Both the Goods and the Good

2 Oct

This Saturday, the threatening rain couldn’t keep me away from the Boston Local Food Festival. A glowering sky and morning showers gave way and while the sun only broke through in brief patches, the morning chill did dissipate.

I hopped on the Red Line and got off at South Station, and then promptly proceeded to the Children’s Museum, site of the Food Festival. From afar, I glimpsed a white sea of dots–the vendor and demonstration tents–but it wasn’t until I entered the festival grounds that I realized the (impressive) magnitude of the event.

One Wing of Saturday’s Boston Local Food Festival (Image: Johnisha M. Levi)

The Food Festival, in its second year, is one of the SBN Local Food Committee’s seven initiatives aimed at growing the local and regional food system.  Upwards of one hundred vendors were offering samples and selling their products; local chefs and butchers gave culinary demonstrations; nonprofit organizations disseminated materials and information; local bands serenaded.

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Cheerwine: North Carolina’s Answer to New England’s Moxie

11 Jan

Diet Cheerwine

I first glimpsed it when I was in the baking aisle searching for unsweetened chocolate and pastry flour. I am not a regular soda drinker, so I am generally oblivious to what I see on the soda shelves–the strident colors immediately making me turn my head. But this was different. Something I’d never encountered. A liter bottle of a soft drink called Cheerwine. I made a mental note to myself to remember this name…

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