Brunch at Harvard Common Press

Harvard Common Press was the site of Sunday's Boston Brunchers event. Located in the South End on the top floor of a former piano factory, HCP graciously opened its offices to about 40 Boston food enthusiasts.

Bookcases full of books, lots of sunlight, and art made the HCP a pleasant place to learn more about the cookbook publishing business.  Adam Salomone, associate publisher, talked about what a publisher looks for in an author and an idea, the lengthy writing process, and how a food blog could become a book.  A key takeaway for a blogger to get the attention of a publisher is engagement with an audience along with a strong voice.  That blogger's audience will most likely buy the cookbook. 

Nancy Mahoney is responsible for the sales and marketing of the cookbooks.  She spoke about her team's process to sell and market cookbooks.  Blog tours, tweet-ups, and reviews are ways cookbooks garner attention from the media.

It would not be a Boston Brunchers event without food! Attendees enjoyed lots of breads and muffins plus fruit and a savory strata.  There was coffee, wine, and two types of punch.

Thank you Boston Brunchers and Harvard Common Press for an enjoyable event!

Local Uncorked Wine Dinner-Local 149

Thanks to a gracious invitation from Boston Food Bloggers and Local 149, I joined three other Boston food bloggers at Local 149's first "local uncorked" wine dinner.  Wines were paired by Ruby Wines, Inc, a local distributor.

As the web site says, the restaurant is a neighborhood joint located in the Citypoint section of South Boston.  Known for pickling, smoking and curing their ingredients and sourcing from local farms, the event proved to be a delicious winter dinner.  The pairings were smart matches that highlighted the dominate elements of the food and wine.  The pairings that seemed to work the best were the Chenin Blanc and winter salad (smoky aromas worked well with the bleu cheese and roasted beets) and the Sancerre and codfishwich sandwich (acidity that cut through the fried fish and cheddar cheese).  All of the tables feature chalkboard tabletops and a small dish of colorful pieces of chalk.  It was easy to keep track of what wine belonged to which glass!

Nice tableside chats throughout the evening were made by the bar manager, Chris, and Chef Leah Dubois.  It is always a treat to speak with the team managing the restaurant and hearing their influences behind the menu. 

The evening's menu:

Graham Beck Demi-Sec Punch (lime grapefruit, Gin, elderflower, and rooibos chai)

Local and regional selection of unreleased cheeses and meats

2009 Graham Beck Chenin Blanc (South Africa)

Winter salad with roasted and pickled beets, smooth blue and caramel corn

2008 Lucien Crochet Sancerre (Loire Valley)

Smoked codfishwich with porter cheddar

2008 or 2009 Owen Roe "Sinister Hand" (grenache/syrah/mourvedre/counoise) (Washington State)

Burgundy braised beef short ribs manchego pomme puree, apricot jam and crystallized pistachios

Ferreira Porto, Vintage 2000

Westfield Farms Chocolate Goat Cheese Cake

Boston Brunchers First Birthday Party at Island Creek Oyster Bar

Its been quite a long time since I have attended a one year old's birthday party; its been even longer since attending TWO first birthdays on the same day.  Such occasion celebrated the first birthdays for Island Creek Oyster Bar and Boston Brunchers. Forty bloggers, brunch enthusiasts, and food folks convened to catch up, meet new friends, and snap pictures of delicious food.  Its always enjoyable to meet the faces that pair with the blogs and Twitter handles.

Oysters await their shucking.
A "regular" bloody mary.
Cocktails before noon. This is brunch.
ICOB's house-made pasteries.

My brunch pick: bagel, smoked salmon, chive cream cheese, pea greens

Special thanks to Renee Hirschberg, founder of Boston Brunchers, for planning the event and converging social media with brunch. And a big thanks to the sponsors for their generosity, especially Island Creek Oyster Bar for hosting.  I look forward to visiting Dorado Tacos & Cemitas to use my winning door prize gift certificate.  Here's a peek into a previous Boston Bruncher's meal at Dorado in February. 

Wilson Farm + Tomato Festival

Wilson Farm, a family owned and operated farm since 1884 in Lexington, MA, held it's annual Tomato Festival this weekend.  Tomatoes varieties from A to Z including a bloody Mary mix were available for purchase.

Fruits and vegetables looking fresh and seasonal.

Wilson Farm staffers doled out samples of tomato recipes (think risotto, caprese salad, gazpacho, guacamole) and cut up slices of peaches and plums.

Games (such as kid-friendly flip cup) attracted kids of all ages; prizes included tomato planting and canning kits.

Saturday was a beautiful day to eat tomatoes and enjoy the summer sunshine.

An Afternoon at Taza Chocolate

Entry to Taza Chocolate's retail shop and tour site.

Raw cacao beans

Taza sources it's beans from Bolivia and the Dominican Republic; beans arrive in 70 kilo bags.

German roasting machine circa 1950's; found in a used industrial Italian warehouse.

A winnower, a machine used to separate the cacao nib from the shell.  The machine was transported from a soon-to-be-closing candy factory in the Dominican Republic to Somerville.  Shells are by-products at Taza and great for garden multch and loose leaf teas.

Packaging material is compostible.  Taza ships to 45 states, but local Bostonians can receive Taza by Metro Pedal Power.

Cacao pods and chocolate samples pre-tour

Items for sale in the retail store

Pictorial story of chocolate making

Thanks to Taza Chocolate for the delicious tour and samples! Also thanks to Rachel Blumenthal (@blumie) of Boston Food Bloggers (@BostonFoodBlogs) for organizing.

Bully Boy Distillery

10 a.m. isn't the usual time to visit Boston's only craft distillery much less sip vodka, white bourbon, and white rum.

Bully Boy is the brainchild of two brothers, Will and Dave Willis.  The pair use traditional techniques to produce small batch spirits emphasizing quality over quantity and local ingredients over whatever is available.

A small group of Boston University gastronomy graduate students toured the distillery hoping to get an inside peek at the inner workings of Bully Boy's operations.  Every step of the spirit making process is performed by hand.  The 600 liter copper pot still is the workhorse of the facility allowing the brothers to focus complex flavors, aromas, and mouth-feel into their spirits. 

This impressive business has bottles featured in some of Boston's top cocktail menus.  For more details, click here.

Farmer's Market Produce

Moving from Chicago to Boston meant an adjustment in many things including weather, accents, lack of taquerias, and timing of produce.

Working as a farmer's market assistant for Stillman's meant a weekly peek at the lastest and greatest produce offerings. 

Each week new vegetables and fruits would appear. Some berries arrived in limited quantities one week yet the following week tables would be overflowing. 

Colorful beets

Squash, beans and peas by the bushel.

Tomatoes and blueberries await a new home.

Cute boxes of sun gold tomatoes mean summer.

Black & White Cookies in the North End

Looking for a unique outing on Saturday night? Interested in checking out the North End section of Boston, but don't want Italian delights? Start a black & white cookie crawl. 

Last weekend's spontaneous idea with friends proved to be a fun sugar filled walking tour of the North End.  The group consisted of three BU Gastronomy students and visited four bakeries. Each person purchased one cookie from a store. After the first visit to a bakery that yielded no cookie due to a sell-out, we decided that one person would survey the cases before getting in line. Once all cookies were purchased, we employed a "critical tasting analysis" upon conclusion of the tour.  After two attempts to seek a dry seating area due to rain, cookies were lined up so that we could observe the color, size, and shape.  After taking bites of each cookie, it was immediately obvious which cookie reigned supreme.  The analysis lasted about five minutes leaving a few crumbs.

Some historical background:  the black & white cookie is also called a half and half, a drop cake or a half moon cookie.  It is considered a Manhattan or New Jersey dessert.  Common differences occur in the texture of the cookie and the flavor of the fondant or icing.  More details of the cookie's origins can be found here.

Thanks to foursquare for some tips, maps, and one "crunk" badge upon check-in. 

Stop #1: Modern Pastry (257 Hanover Street)
The line at Modern Pastry spanned the length of two to three businesses.  The wait was close to 30 minutes, and sadly, no black & white cookies to be found.  Modern was sold out.  We did debate the merits of finding an alternative cookie, but that would be outside the evaluation limits.  During the wait, we discovered overpriced ceramic mugs.

Stop #2: Mike's Pastry (300 Hanover Street)
Always a popular favorite in the North End, the line to get into the shop was a bit misleading.  One long line on the right side of the building did not seem to notice the empty space on the left side of the building.  We quickly swooped in, got in line, and purchased a cookie ($3.50) without too much of a wait.  The cookie came in Mike's distinctive box with white and blue lettering and string.

Stop #3: Bova (134 Salem Street)

This 24 hour deli/pastry shop was a fantastic find.  The line inside was short consisting of locals or folks who knew where they were going.  Located off the main drag of the North End, the black & white cookies were large and $2.50 apiece.  Hot sandwiches lined the counter along with deli meats and fresh breads.  Returning for a meatball sub might have to go on the to-eat list this summer.

Stop #4: Maria's Pastry (46 Cross Street)

The last stop on the black & white cookie tour ended at Maria's, a shop on the front lines of the neighborhood.  We walked right into the shop after passing a cat hanging out by the front door.  Like Bova, the cookie was $2.50.

Black & White Cookie Analysis

The clear winner was Bova due to the cookie's price, visual appeal, and flavor of cake and both white and chocolate frostings.  The vanilla frosting on Mike's cookie was preferred (detection of lemon juice), but that cookie's chocolate frosting tasted fake and lacked real chocolate flavor.  Maria's cookie tasted stale and had a matte finish; the cookies from Mike's and Bova's shined and appeared fresh.

Total cost of this adventure was $8.50 with a side of colorful people watching and knowledge of shops for return visits.

Feel free to comment on your favorite place in the North End (bakery or otherwise).  

Irish Soda Bread

Living in walking distance to a bakery is both a blessing and a curse.  Hot and flaky chocolate croissants, fresh baguettes, and holiday treats such as this Irish soda bread happily greet hungry customers.  If wandering the Brookline/Brighton Ave/Packards Corner area, stop in, breathe in the sweet aromas, and walk out happy.

Clear Flour Bread
178 Thorndike Street
Brookline, MA 02446