The Best Of New England

New England scene showing pumpkins and a field with haystacks

My mom and I recently went to a farm stand. It was so perfectly New England in late summer moving into fall. The pumpkins, stacks of hay, freshly picked vegetables and fruits remind me of the beauty in Massachusetts.

Given the levels of trauma and sadness happening in this country on a daily basis, any degree of serenity and peace I can find is a much needed gift. So with this roundup post, I’m celebrating some the best of things in New England.

Best Drive-In Movies

Going to drive-in movies is a thing again because of the pandemic. I remember going a few times when I was very young and having a blast. Fodor’s Travel lists ten of the best drive-in movie theaters around the country and three of them are in New England. With chilly weather here, it’s the perfect social distanced activity.

#3 Sunset Drive-In – Colchester, VT

#2 Mansfield Drive-In – Mansfield, CT

#1 Wellfleet Drive-In Theater – Wellflett, MA

Best Places To Live

As a third generation New Englander, I’m definitely biased, but there are many good things about living here. People travel here from all over the world to attend school. Whether you love ’em or hate ’em, our sports teams are some of the best. We have world class hospitals and medical care, which is especially important right now. Five places in New England made Money magazine’s list of the 50 best places to live in America.

#37  Salem, NH

#28  Chesire, CT

#26  Braintree, MA

#14  Chelmsford, MA

#12  South Windsor, CT

Best Craft Distilleries

Rhode Island Spirits, located in Pawtucket, came in third in USA Today’s list of the ten best new craft distilleries.  They sell organic and gluten free gins, vodkas and liqueurs. This reminds me of the great time I had touring a rum distillery with my father.

Best Pizza

The Daily Meal recently declared the top 101 pizza places in the United States. Several New England pizza places made the cut. Connecticut has the most places on the list of the New England states and beats the entire country with the number one spot. Mystic Pizza is arguably Connecticut’s most well-know pizzeria and the movie by the same name helped launch Julia Robert into stardom. Back in January 2019, Playbill wrote that Melissa Etheridge was working on the score to a stage adaptation of the movie. Despite the fame of the pizza shop, it’s not on the list.

#90 Micucci Grocery – Portland, ME

#86 Slab – Portland, ME

#67 Al Forno, Providence, RI

#47 BAR – New Haven, CT

#45 Zuppardi’s Apizza – West Haven, CT

#43 Colony Grill – Stamford, CT

#40 Tilton House of Pizza – Tilton, NH

#25 Galleria Umberto – Boston, MA

#16 Modern Apizza – New Haven, CT

#9 Sally’s Apizza– New Haven, CT

#7 Santarpio’s – East Boston, MA

#1 Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana – New Haven, CT

Best Scents

I can’t claim that these are the best scented candles, but I like the idea of them. The brand is called Homesick and the scents are supposed to remind you of a place.

Scent is a big thing for me, so I was thrilled when I was invited to take a smell walk in Boston. That walk focused on scent was one of the coolest things that I’ve done as a blogger.

The Boston candle is described as “Fall days spent wandering the cobblestone streets. Notes of spiced tea with clove and orange capture the City on a Hill.”

There are a few more city candles and state candles too. I think these would make a great gift. To wind up this roundup, here are the descriptions of the scents for each of the New England states.

Connecticut: “Warm-baked pies fragrant of nutmeg, clove and lemon. Eucalyptus and oakmoss evoke memories of brisk fall afternoons spent outside.”

Maine: “Reminiscent of wild Maine blueberries and lavender fields. Woody notes of cedarwood and patchouli balanced with a floral bouquet.”

Massachusetts: “Apple cider, simmering coffee, and just-baked donuts. Sweet hints of tonka bean are balanced by spicy cinnamon and a touch of fragrant clove.”

New Hampshire: “Cozy up with a cup of hot apple cider. Autumn days spent outside with views of foliage and the sweet smell of vanilla in the air.”

Rhode Island: “An afternoon on the Cliff Walk with hot apple cider and cozy sweaters to keep warm. The rolling tides carry the sweet and spicy scents of fall.”

Vermont: “Vibrant foliage covers the rolling hills of the Green Mountain State. Scents of cinnamon and apple pie blend with decadent maple syrup.”

What do you think? Do these scents represent the best of New England? And just because you might like it, here’s a cider donut locator. It doesn’t get much more New England than that.

Finding Flour: Where & Why

Bread has been vital to human survival for more than 10,000 years. Flour combined with water makes a dough for cooking over a fire or baked in an oven. These simple ingredients have sustained people for a long time. That is to say, flour may subconsciously signal life. Now finding flour has become a national obsession.

Since the pandemic began, people seem to have latched onto the idea that having enough flour is essential. Even for people who never baked at home before, so it’s not particularly logical. But nevertheless, many have latched on so tightly to this idea, that there have been flour shortages in stores for months. People are baking like crazy.

In the age of COVID-19, in many ways we are literally in survival mode and behaving on instinct. There is something primal about flour. Maybe in our subconscious, we as a species know that if we have flour we can survive. Also kneading dough is soothing — like a meditation.

Over the last week especially, as police brutally killed Black people, it felt like an attack on my spirit. I’ve gasped for air and felt pain in my neck. It’s times like this that I need to find ways to stay calm. That familiar combination of flour and water brings me back to myself.

I’ve baked cinnamon bread, scones, cookies and cake. I had a decent amount of flour at home to begin with, but then started to run low and didn’t see all-purpose flour on store shelves for weeks, so I bought cake flour to tide me over.

Because I wasn’t sure how long this flour shortage would last, I decided that sourcing locally and online would be the best option and also help support local business. Thankfully I’m now well-stocked with flour.

Below is a list of New England area mills with freshly milled flour, cornmeal and more ready to ship directly to you!

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One Mighty Mill (Lynn, MA)

Ground Up Grain (Hadley, MA)

Maine Grains (Skowhegan, ME)

Gray’s Grist Mill (Westport, MA)

Plimoth Grist Mill (Plymouth, MA)

Kenyon’s Grist Mill (West Kingston, RI)

The Dinner Club Is Back!

Back in 2010, a small group of my friends started a dinner club. I’m so glad that I was already blogging at that point, so I can look back at the history of our gatherings.

Below is a quick summary for me, but also so our current group can look back at what we did before. If you’re interested in putting together your own dinner club, this post might be a guideline for you as well. For the last iteration of the dinner club, we picked a celebrity chef and cooked their recipes.

It’s also interesting to see what we planned for each dinner versus what actually happened. Which you can see if you click on the links and read the posts.

November 9, 2010 – Paula Deen

December 28, 2010 – Rachel Ray

March 22, 2011 – Ina Garten aka Barefoot Contessa

February 9, 2011 – Wolfgang Puck

May 19, 2011 – Ming Tsai

June 25, 2011 – Marcus Samuelsson

August 31, 2011 – Jamie Oliver

March 1, 2012 – Bobby Flay

March 17, 2012 – Emeril Lagasse

May 3, 2012 – B. Smith

November 2, 2013 – Dinner Club 2.0

The dates are the dates of the blog posts, not the actual days of the dinners. But they give an idea of the frequency of the dinners. Looking back, I can see how life got in the way. But we still had a great time and all of us who were part of the original group look back fondly at those gatherings. Such fun times!

I’m so happy that we’ve resumed the dinners to start the new decade. The first dinner was in January. Unfortunately I was really sick, so I missed it.

The second dinner was this past Saturday, on leap day. Since it was Black History Month, we picked soul food as a theme. The food was so good and I’m still enjoying the leftovers!

For dessert, I made banana pudding. It was my first time making it and I really enjoyed the process. It was delicious too!

My aunt, who passed away a few years ago, was the one in our family who always made banana pudding and introduced me to the dessert. I thought a lot about her as I was making it. My mom was the one who suggested that I make it and I’m so glad that she did.

For our next dinner club, we decided to pay tribute to B. Smith, who just passed away, by cooking her recipes. Looking back at the old dinner club posts, I saw that she was also our last celebrity chef. We’ve come full circle.

At dinner this Saturday, one of the new members mentioned that she had heard that one of the reasons that we started the club was because regular gatherings make people happier. I had forgotten, but said it sounded like something that I said.

In the Wolfgang Puck dinner post, I found that I had written about gatherings and happiness. Author Dan Buettner had said that being part of a once a month club where you must show up in person, has the same happiness impact as doubling your income. Life experiences and social interaction increase happiness.

I wrote about it back then and believe it even more years later. Here’s hoping that the gatherings continue!

Recipe: Caramelized Apple Dutch Baby

Carmelized Apple Dutch Baby on a plate.

Happy New Year! We’re living in the future! Well, actually the present. But that number — 2020. It seems like the future. Like when we were going from 1999 to 2000. It’s really just one day apart, but mentally it feels like a big jump. Going from one century to the next and one decade to the next. Also, now we’re really deep into the 21st century. It feels big.

So I decided to begin this first morning of the year and decade by doing something that I’ve been planning to do for quite some time. I made a Dutch baby for breakfast. These German pancakes were the darling of the food blogger world for many years. As I was reading yesterday, the main character in the novel just happened to make one. That sealed it for me.

A Dutch baby is similar to a popover, which I have made before. The dramatic thing about both is that they puff up without using any leavening. When I made popovers, they puffed up.

The Dutch baby did not puff. I have to admit that I was disappointed. Now I realize that the instructions in the recipe that I used didn’t stress using a blender or electric hand mixer to combine the ingredients. That vigorous mixing would have added more air prompting the puff. I forgot about this until looking at my popover recipe. Next time I’ll remember.

Also, just to let you know about the coloring. I keep a mixture of white flour combined with other healthier flours (ingredients) for better nutrition. The current combination is coffee flour and flaxseed meal. So the brown color of the Dutch baby might not be the same if you use plain white flour.

I’ve adapted this recipe from one on the blog Simply Scratch. Let me know if you try it and Happy New Year! 🎉

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Single Serving Caramelized Apple Dutch Baby

INGREDIENTS:

Caramelized Apples:

  • 1 apple cut up
  • 1 T butter
  • 2 T brown sugar

Dutch Baby:

  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 1 T sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 tsp. vanilla extract
  • pinch salt
  • 1 T butter (for the skillet)

INSTRUCTIONS:

Preheat oven to 400°F.

Put the butter in a small skillet on medium heat and coat the sides. Add the apples and brown sugar. Stir and cook the apples for about 10 minutes. They will become tender and caramelized.

While the apples are cooking, combine the ingredients for the Dutch baby in a blender or use an electric mixer in a small bowl. Stirring with a whisk or a spoon is fine, but unless you whisk for longer than I did, it won’t be enough to get a lot of air into the mixture so that it will puff up in the oven.

Put the butter in a medium cast iron skillet on medium heat and coat the sides. When the butter sizzles, pour the batter into the pan and place in oven for 15 minutes.

Remove from the pan with a spatula and place on a large plate. Pour the apples on the Dutch baby. Sprinkle cinnamon and powdered sugar over the top. Enjoy!

Eating Out Alone: Pity Party Or Joyful Escape?

Woman alone sitting in restaurant looking at a menu.

When you see this woman sitting at a restaurant alone, looking at a menu, what do you think of her?

Do you pity her and think she has no friends? Do you want to rescue her from solitude? Do you assume she’s waiting for someone‘s arrival? Does she look sad or content?

Do you envy her and think she was able to slip away for a slice of freedom from an otherwise very busy and full life?

Is she an introvert reveling in the pleasure of her own company? There’s a whole Reddit thread on introverts eating alone. And of course, it’s mostly positive. A downside mentioned is trying to spare others feelings when wanting to eat alone.

The one thing I hated about college was that many people would feel bad for me when I would eat alone in the dining hall. Sometimes, you just need some time to be alone with your thoughts. I silently cursed when somebody would say ‘Come sit with us. You don’t have to eat alone.’ Obviously, I appreciate the gesture, but it was always so uncomfortable for me.

Whether an introvert or not, maybe you might consider that à la writer Julie Cameron, she has taken herself out for a weekly Artist Date — where she is wooing her own consciousness to cultivate and sustain her creativity.

Maybe you assume nothing. But many Americans may feel sorry for her.

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When I started The Chowdah Project on this blog, I couldn’t find a free stock photo of chowder and didn’t have a picture of my own. I was on a self-imposed deadline and wanted to get started right away. I decided to go to a nearby restaurant, enjoy some chowder and take some photos.

Since I was going by myself, I brought a book. I was seated at a table next to a man about my age or a bit older, with two young women who appeared to be teenagers or maybe in their early 20s.

The chowder was good and I got the photos that I wanted. As the people at the table next to me were leaving, the man said to me that he hadn’t realized that I was there alone. If he had, he said that he would have asked me to join them. I was at a loss for words (which often happens to me when I’m caught off-guard), so I smiled, said that was okay, but thank you.

It was very kind of him, but like the Reddit thread, it made me wonder what he was thinking. Maybe he had assumed I was meeting someone.

A few weeks ago, a story went viral about three young men at a restaurant inviting an older women eating alone to sit with them. The takeaway from the story was always be kind to people, because you never know what they are going through. She was an elderly widow missing her husband on a day close to what would have been their 60th anniversary. It’s definitely a feel good story and with all the current news, something that we can all appreciate.

This story also reminded me of my solo chowder eating experience and made me want to explore the topic further.

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The circumstances of eating alone may play a part on how society generally sees it.

One article that I read about eating alone was written by a man named Justin who was eating with his girlfriend at a restaurant and saw a man dining on his own. Justin was intrigued and decided to try it himself. His reflections on the experience are quite interesting. One thing he noted was that people are curious and spoke about him.

There was actually one statement I overheard that really caught my attention however. ‘You know, I’d love to do that one day.’ A voice articulated from a few tables behind me. It was the very sentence I had uttered to my girlfriend the time I had seen the suave, champagne-drinking gentleman.

It seems to me that maybe there is a different perception of men eating alone than women. Also, maybe the age of the person matters. Society may view older people as lonely, especially women. Sometimes that may be true, but it seems to be just as likely that it’s not.

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An Eater article says that solo dining in New York City increased 80% between 2014 and 2018. So maybe more people are discovering the thrill of solo dining. It seems to be a taboo that people are shunning.

Writer Elizabeth Gilbert, of Eat Pray Love fame, is all for eating breakfast alone once a week.

One of the simplest acts of happiness you can experience in life is this: Once a week, take yourself out to breakfast, all alone, at a local diner or cafe. Bring a good book. Sit by a sunny window. Read. Marvel at how this changes everything.

Sounds perfect to me. What about you?