My Top 8… Favorite Things for Summer

What I’m into lately…

1) William Sonoma’s White Balsamic Vinegar – Perfect for salads, but arguably even better drizzled over fresh strawberries. It’s pricy, but strong. A little goes a long way, so it should last you awhile. If you’re really adventurous, mix it with vodka, soda water, a little bit of honey and a few fresh mint leaves for a quick, refreshing summer cocktail.

2) Cambozola (available at Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s and many cheese shops) – I went through a brie phase last month and have been looking for something similar, but different. My friendly neighborhood cheesemonger stepped in with the suggestion of Cambozola (aka “the heroin of cheeses”). It’s the texture of camembert with some of the funk of gorgonzola. I love it drizzled with honey atop plain old water crackers and paired with…

3) Grüner Veltliner – A dry white wine produced mostly in Austria, it’s high on acid with lots of citrus and hints of white pepper. Good for people who like Sauvignon Blanc or Dry Reislings, but are looking to branch out. New producers are popping up in Hungary and New Zealand, but Austrian “gru-vees” still tend to be the most consistent. (NOTE: It’s not a natural pairing with Cambozola, but I like how the acid cuts the creaminess of the cheese, especially if the cheese is an appetizer rather than part of a dessert course.)

4) Tommy Bahama’s Backpack Beach Chair – I’ve never been a huge fan of the beach, but the beaches of the Mediterranean made a convert out of me last summer when I was lucky enough to spend a few weeks in Greece and Italy. Their beaches are outstanding, not in small part because the chairs are set up for you and charming young men come by with drinks, magazines and even freshly baked donuts. American beaches have a lot to learn. So, while I’ve made peace with the sand and the sun, I still can’t reconcile lugging tons of stuff to and fro. This chair is a game changer for me.

5) Hydrangeas – I’ve been slowly redecorating my house for the past year. My great room is a blend of whites and grays and I like to use ivory hydrangeas to tie it all together as a dining room centerpiece. I used to hate fresh flowers, but as long as they’re high quality blooms and you make sure to keep them in lots of water, hydrangeas can last 3+ weeks.

6) Stella McCartney’s L.I.L.Y – I’m not really into perfumes, but I love perfume samples, if that makes any sense. I was given a sample of L.I.L.Y by a very excited Sephora employee last summer, but threw it in a bag and forgot about it. I dug it out a few weeks ago while I was cleaning and have been addicted ever since. It’s a bit lighter than my usual fragrances (Dolce and Gabbana Sicily and Gucci Guilty), although it may still be too strong for some.

7) Trader Joe’s Kalamata Olive Hummus + their Flaxseed wraps + fresh veggies = fast, easy sandwich. Perfect for school, work, the beach or the backyard.

8) Harry Potter – Sure, I’ve read all the books and seen all the movies, but something about summer screams Harry Potter to me. Curled up on the back porch, getting lost in Hogwarts makes me feel, however briefly, that all is right with the world.

Honorable mentions:  Like most other people, I’ve been getting really into The World Cup. And my yearly Wimbledon binges are about to begin in earnest, so I expect my next couple of weeks of posts will surround clotted cream, hot South American soccer players and my love for Novak Djokovic. Could be worse. 😉

In vino veritas

I started a wine class at the Boston Center for Adult Education this past Tuesday. Can’t complain about the homework – between classes we’re supposed to drink wines from the previous week’s theme. That means we’re drinking French wines from the Loire Valley this week, so I figured I’d try making a regional dinner to go along. For the appetizer, I bought a duck rillette – I’d love to learn how to make one, but the recipes I found look pretty intense. I am going to make a poached bream in beurre blanc (fingers crossed) for the main course. For dessert, we’re having a cheese plate with fun condiments like stewed strawberries and parsnip chips. Should be a fun dinner. I’ll try to remember to take pictures this time!!

Louis Loire

• If you’ve never been to the Loire Valley, you should definitely plan a trip. If you like food, wine, châteaux, cycling, you really can’t go wrong. My recommendation is to stay in Amboise; it’s an easy train ride from Paris and a great jumping-off point. And, if you do find yourself in the area, I can’t say enough great things about Le Vieux Manoir. I’m not usually a fan of B&B’s, but this one is unbelievable. Without question one of the most beautiful and romantic places I’ve ever been. ❤

Frozen Treats II

Confession: I am not a huge fan of frozen yogurt, as you might have gathered from my love letter to ice cream places around the world the other day. But, I go to the techniques classes every Sunday at my local Williams-Sonoma store and this morning’s theme was frozen treats. We made a bunch of different ice creams, frozen yogurts and sorbets. They were all excellent, but my favorite was this awesome honey & cardamom frozen yogurt. It was delicious; I’ll definitely be making it soon. And, call me crazy, but I think dark chocolate covered pumpkin seeds would be a great topping. Yummy.

Apps I Love: Seafood Watch

We were talking in Marine Bio the other day about sustainable fisheries and I was surprised to find out more people didn’t know about Seafood Watch, an app run by the Monterey Bay Aquarium. I only learned about it in January while I was eating brunch at The Border Grill in Las Vegas. The restaurant, whose chefs are familiar to fans of Top Chef Masters, is committed to including only sustainably-sourced seafood on its menu. They even go so far as to include a Seafood Watch cheat sheet in every check folder. It’s an easy move and a commendable effort at informing the dining public.

After a great conversation with my server, I downloaded the app and it’s been a pretty handy resource.  You enter in the type of seafood that you’re considering buying or ordering and the app will give it a rating – “Best Choice,” “Good Alternative” or “Avoid.” If you’re considering something from the “Avoid” list, the app will suggest more sustainable/environmentally-friendly alternatives. For example, let’s say you’re considering buying Atlantic cod from Canada. The app would tell you to avoid it and lead you to Atlantic cod from Iceland (which is caught using a handline, instead of a bottom-trawler), Pacific cod or even US farmed Cobia. Few, if any, consumers would notice a culinary change, but given how cod stocks in the North Atlantic have suffered over the past few decades, this small switch, if adopted by enough people, could have a major impact.

If you’re a fan of sushi, Seafood Watch’s sushi list is also really helpful, although it may be heartbreaking for many out there. On the “Avoid” list are some of my personal favorites – hamachi, maguro, ebi, unagi… There are some exceptions based on where exactly the species are sourced from and how they’re caught, but it’s a grim list. On the other hand, it’s been pretty fun to explore alternatives and to discover new sashimi and sushi I’d never considered before.

I highly recommend Seafood Watch for the environmentally conscious piscivores out there. It’s easy and eye-opening, and, if we can all do our part, we can help change consumer demand and give some sorely suffering stocks time to recover.

One fish, two fish…

• If you want even more Seafood Watch, check out the website. In addition to all of the stuff from the app, there’s an expanded section on the issues facing the world’s oceans, the double-edged sword of aquaculture/mariculture and other relevant issues.

• If you’re interested in this kind of thing, this article from NPR’s Food for Thought blog is pretty interesting, albeit controversial.

• I don’t know of any sustainable sushi restaurants in Boston, but there’s one in near Yale in New Haven – Miya’s. Expect long waits and an ever-changing menu.

Guess who’s coming to dinner?

My house has been a work in progress for the past few months. Years, really. I’ve been slowly redecorating each room, one by one. It’s a lot of fun and I’ll be sad when it’s over. Anyway, last night I had my first dinner party since I finished the great room. “Finished” probably isn’t a great word since I’m sure I’ll be tweaking stuff forever. But, it was still nice to have good friends over to enjoy the space and especially to have people to cook for. ❤

What’s for dinner?

• I made a variation of Ina Garten’s Chicken with Herbed Goat Cheese, along with roasted fingerling potatoes and sautéed green beans. Dessert was my version of a make your own sundae bar, my reasoning being that that’s what I’d want if I went to someone else’s house for dinner. Timing still eludes me, but, aside from a lobster puffy pastry hors d’oeuvres that was ill-conceived from the get-go, everything went pretty well. I meant to take pictures to post here, but I was having so much fun, I forgot. Next time!

• One of my new favorite podcasts:  Dinner Party Download.

• I’d totally forgotten about Jon Favreau’s Dinner for Five until the other day. Evidently, all of the episodes are available on YouTube. Hours well wasted, for sure.

My Top 8… IPAs

I’ve never been much of a beer drinker, but I’ve been getting really into IPAs over the past few months. High on hops, they’re definitely not for the faint of heart. But, they’re driving much of the American craft beer movement and, not for nothing, knowing a little bit about them may secure you some street cred with the beer snobs in your social circle.

If you’re new to IPAs, I’d recommend you start with the (typically) milder English- and Belgian-styles. Despite the name, many great European-style IPAs are produced in the US. The best ones are often produced by small breweries, although the giants have gotten on the IPA bandwagon to mixed (and often watery) results. Keep in mind, if you brave American-style IPAs, East Coast ones are often a little milder than their West Coast brothers.

So, without further ado and in no particular order, here are my (current) top 8 IPAs…

NOTE: I’m sure there are TONS of IPAs out there I’m missing, but I only wanted to include stuff I’ve personally tried.

1) Tramp Stamp Belgian India Pale Ale (Clown Shoes Brewery, Ipswich, MA) – I’m biased since Clown Shoes is so close to where I live. I can’t speak to how widely available their products are outside of New England, but I’ve seen their stuff stocked in New Jersey and Florida, so that’s encouraging. In addition to being a great, balanced example of a Belgian-style IPA, how can you resist the name?

2) Raging Bitch Belgian-Style IPA (Flying Dog Brewery, Frederick, MD) – Anyone else noticing that the names for Belgian-style IPAs are delightfully anti-PC? This one is no exception. I had this one paired with a plate of stinky cheeses as part of a dessert course. Like other Belgians, it goes well with really dark chocolate.

3) Sculpin IPA (Ballast Point Brewing Company, San Diego, CA) – It’s hard to find a lot of fruit characteristics in IPAs, but this one definitely hits those notes. A perennial pick on top IPA lists, it’s easy to drink and easy to find. Can’t argue with that.

4) Jaipur IPA (Thornbridge Brewery, Derbyshire, UK) – Sticking with moderately-strong IPAs, this one from the UK is great with Indian food. It’s a little stronger than most European-style IPAs, but doesn’t come close to the intensely hoppy American ones.

5) Heady Topper American IPA (The Alchemist, Waterbury, VT) – Another New England example, this time of an American Double IPA. I should preface this recommendation by saying that Waterbury, VT has a special place in my heart. Heady Topper is hard to get your hands on unless you’re in VT, but it’s definitely worth the trip. Sadly, the brewery is no longer open to the public. But, there’s a Cabot cheese shop with endless free samples not far down the same road. Stock up on beer and cheese and head over to Stowe for a picnic. And on your way back to Interstate 89, hit up the Ben & Jerry’s factory. You’re welcome.

6) Torpedo Extra IPA (Sierra Nevada, Chico, CA) – Hands down one of the easiest IPAs to get ahold of. Hoppy, but balanced. Definitely woodsier than the Sculpin, but not nearly as strong as the Imperials. A good mass market IPA.

7)  Believer (Ninkasi Brewing, Eugene, OR) – Confession: I am not a huge fan of Red IPAs. They’re a pretty pour and I totally get why people like them around the holidays, but they’re really not my thing. That said, this one’s worth trying twice.

8) 120 minute IPA (Dogfish Head Brewery, Milton, DE) – It’s hard to even call this one a beer. Like many other examples from the Imperial IPA/American Double category, it’s definitely not recommended for newbies. If that’s you, DH’s 90 minute IPA may be more your style; the hops in that one are a little more balanced than in the 120. Try them side by side to get the idea.

Honorable mention: Harpoon IPA is on draught at a ton of bars in New England. I personally think it’s the Coors Light of IPAs, but  if you’re options are limited, it’s a solid choice. I personally like it with spicy Asian flavors, like a Thai red curry.

Please sir, can I have some more?

• Want more IPA suggestions? This list from First We Feast may be up your alley.

• “Why does every single IPA make my gut bubble like a Jacuzzi full of soup?” For the IPA haters out there, check out this diatribe.

• If you have a Total Wine store near you, I highly recommend their beer, wine and spirits classes. Run by incredibly knowledgable staff members who genuinely love the products they peddle, they’re organized by theme, run for about 2 hours and cost $15-20 apiece. I’ve never felt pressured into buy anything, but after two hours of tasting, you’re almost guaranteed to walk out with something you want to bring home.