Sunday, August 29, 2010

A Cusine Survives the Storm

I love New Orleans food. Gumbo, jambalaya, beignets...all of it! To honor the city's survival five years after Hurricane Katrina, here is an article I wrote for the Concord Monitor newspaper that ran on the first anniversary--complete with recipes! Enjoy!

New Orleans Cuisine After the Storm

One year ago, eighty percent of New Orleans was under the flood waters of Hurricane Katrina. Possibly the first sign of life amid the devastation was the re-opening, one by one, of the city’s restaurants. In a place where food establishments dominate just about every square block, it was a clear statement from the community, “We are still here and not giving up.”

At first, many of the restaurants gave out free food to rescue and relief workers as well as the local folks, some who could no longer cook in their own kitchens. Soon these eateries became recovery places. People came together to hug and share their storm stories with other survivors.

“The restaurants have pulled the city back together again,”said Tom Fitzmorris, a well-known food critic and author of New Orleans Food (Stewart, Tabori & Chang, 2006).

Born on Mardi Gras, Fitzmorris is a life-long Orleanian. In fact, the longest he has ever been away from the city was when his family evacuated the Sunday before Katrina made landfall, first to Atlanta and then to Washington, DC. Luckier than some, his home north of the city was largely undamaged. However, his office across from the Superdome was completely destroyed. His loses included an extensive collection of restaurant photographs dating back to the mid 1970s.

Fitzmorris had started his cookbook before the storm, but it was watching the devastation on television, “Drinking martini after martini,” that motivated him to finish the book. He is donating a portion of the profits to Habitat for Humanity, since housing is still the number one problem in the city. He noted, “Sixty-five percent of the housing stock in the city is still uninhabitable.”

Katrina was also what inspired Linda and Steve Bauer to finish their book, Recipes from Historic Louisiana (Bright Sky Press, 2006), a collection of recipes from the area’s most famous restaurants. They convinced their publisher to donate the proceeds to the National Trust for Historic Preservation Hurricane Relief Fund.

“New Orleans’s restaurants are places with a fabulous history and great food,”said Linda Bauer. “Many of the restaurants have been handed down for four generations. Just about every kind of food that you can imagine is found there. What other city had so many restaurants in such a small space?”

It is New Orleans’s unique food and music culture that draws Chef Sean Burt back time and again. The owner of Tooky Mills restaurant in Hillsboro has gone down for the city’s annual jazz festival a number of times. “The food is so authentic,” said Burt.“It’s food like you don’t get anywhere else in the world. They take basic ingredients and come up with great dishes.”

New Orleans’s cuisine is local food. To many people outside the region, it is synonymous with Creole and Cajun dishes. What is the difference? “Creole cooking has a French face, a Spanish soul and African hands,” said Fitzmorris. “It then got an Italian heart and a Cajun smile. If you have to define the difference, it would be that Cajun is considered country cooking while Creole is city cooking. If you are from here, you never ask what the difference is because you don’t care.”

To cook New Orleans’s style, the kitchen pantry should include a container of Creole seasoning, Louisiana hot sauce, filé powder (powdered sassafras leaves), molasses and brown sugar. Fitzmorris also recommends, “Boulders of (salted) butter and seas of cream.”

Below are some recipes for well-known New Orleans dishes. However, the city’s food made outside the area never quite tastes the same. Fitzmorris calls it the Gumbo Paradox. He explained, “Two hundred New Orleans cooks make gumbo with two hundred different recipes, but they will all taste like gumbo. Outside of New Orleans, it doesn’t taste like gumbo, even if you use the exact same ingredients. I don’t know why.”

Burt has several New Orleans-inspired dishes on his menu, both as specials and regular offerings. “I try to create my flavors based on what I’ve had down there,”  he said. “We aren’t in New Orleans, so I don’t even try to make them exact. People need to go there and experience it for themselves.”

Barbecue Shrimp

The name is misleading since this recipe does not use a grill, smoker or barbecue sauce. Chef Sean Burt of Tooky Mills Pub developed this recipe for his menu based on the popular dish he had many times on his trips to New Orleans.

Serves 4

1/2 cup olive oil

32 extra-large (16-20) shrimp, peeled and de-veined

1 1/3 cups chicken stock

1/2 cup fresh lemon juice

1/2 cup Chef Paul Prudhomme’s Blackened Redfish Magic Seasoning Blends, or your favorite Creole/Cajun spice mix

12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, chilled

Heat a large saute pan over medium heat until hot. Add olive oil. When oil is hot, add the shrimp and cook until almost done, about 30 seconds to 1 minute per side.

Add the chicken stock and lemon juice to the pan. Turn off the heat. Add the spice mix (more or less depending on your taste.) Let pan sit while stirring for about 30 seconds.

Once pan cools slightly, add the cold butter. (If the pan is too hot, the butter will break and not make a smooth sauce.) Swirl the pan until the butter melts and combines to create a creamy Cajun lemon sauce.

Place the shrimp in individual bowls and pour the sauce on top. Serve with crusty bread sticks or French bread to sop-up any leftover sauce.


This is a New Orleans breakfast favorite best associated with the Café Du Monde. It is traditionally made with yeast dough, but Fitzmorris’s recipe, which is similar to biscuit dough, is a bit easier for the home cook.

Makes 12 to 15 beignets

2 cups self-rising flour

1 tablespoon Crisco

1/4 cup water

1 tablespoon sugar

Vegetable oil, for frying

1 cup confectioners’ sugar, sifted

Combine the flour and Crisco in a bowl with a wire whisk until the mixture resembles coarse cornmeal, with perhaps a few lumps here and there.

Warm the water in the microwave oven until barely warm to the touch. Pour the water into a large bowl, add the sugar, and stir until dissolved. Add the flour mixture and blend it with kitchen fork. Work the dough as little as possible.

Turn the dough out on a clean counter and dust with a little flour. Roll it out to a uniform thickness of about 1/4 inch. Cut into rectangles about 2 x 4 inches. Let sit for a couple of minutes while you heat the oil.

Pour oil to a depth of 1 inch in a large, deep skillet and heat to about 325 degrees. When the beignet dough squares have softened and puffed up a little, drop 4 to 6 at a time into the hot oil and fry until light brown. Turn once and fry the other side. Drain on paper towels. It’s all right to fry the misshapen dough pieces from the edge of the dough sheet.

Dust with confectioners’ sugar and serve hot.

-- From New Orleans Food by Tom Fitzmorris (Stewart, Tabori & Chang, 2006)

Pumpkin and Pecan Bread Pudding

Tom Fitzmorris said that almost every restaurant in New Orleans has bread pudding on the menu. This version utilizes New Hampshire’s new state fruit.

1/4 cup sugar

3 whole eggs

3 egg yolks

4 cups half-and-half

2 cups heavy whipping cream

2 tablespoons vanilla extract

1 can solid-pack pumpkin

2 tablespoons cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

2 tablespoons salted butter

1 loaf stale French bread, cut into 1/2-inch thick slices

1 cup pecan pieces

Preheat the oven to 250 degrees. Whisk the sugar, whole eggs and yolks, half-and-half, cream, and vanilla in a large bowl to make a smooth custard. Combine the pumpkin, cinnamon, nutmeg and 1/2 cup of the custard mixture in another bowl.

Generously grease the insides of two 10-inch cake pans with the butter. Line the perimeters of each pan with the smallest slices of bread, then cover the bottom of each with an overlapping bread layer. Pour one-sixth of the custard mixture over the bread to soak it. Spread one-fourth of the pumpkin over the bread in each pan, then sprinkle about one-fourth of the pecans over the pumpkin. Repeat the process in the same order, ending with a layer of bread, pecans, and a final soaking with the spiced custard.

Bake for about 1 1/2 hours. The pudding will rise a great deal, but it will fall again when you take it out of the oven. Remove and cool. Cut into pie-style slices and serve either warm or cold.

--From New Orleans Food by Tom Fitzmorris (Stewart, Tabori & Chang, 2006)

Bourbon Whiskey Sauce for Bread Pudding

Makes approximately 1 1/2 cups

1 stick unsalted butter

1 cup sugar

1 tablespoon orange juice, strained

1 egg

1/4 cup (or more to taste) bourbon, or 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Melt the butter in a sauce pan over medium-low heat. Add the sugar, orange juice, and 1/4 cup of water, and cook until the sugar is completely dissolved. Remove from heat.

Beat the egg well in a bowl. Add the butter-sugar mixture, about a tablespoon at a time, whisking constantly. (You can pick up the pace after half of the butter-sugar is added.) Add the bourbon or vanilla and whisk until smooth.

--From New Orleans Food by Tom Fitzmorris (Stewart, Tabori & Chang, 2006)

Creole Gumbo

This recipe is from Antoine’s Restaurant, started in 1840 and the oldest family-run restaurant in the country.

Serves 6

6 tablespoons salted butter, divided

2 cups green onion, chopped

2 cups okra, sliced

3 crabs (top shell discarded, cut into 4 pieces)

1 cup white onion, chopped

2 cups raw shrimp, peeled

2 cups raw oysters

1 cup tomato pulp, chopped

2 cups tomato juice

1 1/2 quarts fish stock (or vegetable stock)

3 tablespoons flour

1 tablespoon filé (ground sassafras, available by mail order)

Salt, pepper and cayenne, to taste

3 cups cooked rice

Melt 3 tablespoons butter and sauté the green onion, okra, white onion and crab. In a separate pot, put the shrimp, oysters, tomatoes and tomato juice with 1/1/2 quarts of fish stock and bring to a boil. Let boil for a minute, then add to the first pot.

In a small skillet, cook the rest of the butter and flour together until brown. Blend this brown roux with the filé and some of the gumbo liquid and add to the gumbo. Add salt, pepper and cayenne to taste. Simmer for 1 1/2 hours.

To serve, pour 1 1/2 cups of gumbo into each bowl over 1/2 cup rice.

--From Recipes fro Historic Louisiana: Cooking with Louisiana’s Finest Restaurants by Linda and Steve Bauer (Bright Sky Press, 2006)

Bananas Foster

Invented at the renowned Brennan’s restaurant, this dish is often served for breakfast as well as dessert.

Serves 4

1/4 cup salted butter

1 cup brown sugar

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 cup banana liqueur

4 bananas, cut in half lengthwise, then halved

1/4 cup dark rum

4 scoops vanilla ice cream

Combine the butter, sugar and cinnamon in a flambé pan or skillet. Place the pan over low heat either on an alcohol burner or on top of the stove and cook, stirring, until the sugar dissolves.

Stir in the banana liqueur, then place the bananas in the pan. When the banana sections soften and begin to brown, carefully add the rum. Continue to cook the sauce until the rum is hot, then tip the pan slightly to ignite the rum.

When the flames subside, lift the bananas out of the pan and place four pieces over each portion of ice cream. Generously spoon warm sauce over the top of the ice cream and serve immediately.

--From Recipes fro Historic Louisiana: Cooking with Louisiana’s Finest Restaurants by Linda and Steve Bauer (Bright Sky Press, 2006)

Thursday, August 19, 2010

What I Think I Think, So Far…

In many ways, it’s hard for me to believe I’ve lived in Kansas for two months now—and how long it has been since I posted on this blog! On the flip side, it feels like I’ve always belonged in this state. So for fun (and with a nod to Sports Illustrated columnist Peter King, who does this every week) here are my Ten Things I Think I Think about life in Kansas so far:

1. It’s the humidity, stupid: We’ve all heard the saying, “It’s not the heat. It’s the humidity.” Well, whoever first said it knew what they were talking about. The humidity is killer in the Midwest. For example, I was helping mow the lawn on a hot summer day—something I did often in New Hampshire. My clothes were soaked through, I was aggravated at everything, and I had to finish the job the next day! Things improved the next time—I guess it is possible to adapt to humidity. Still, I can’t believe how much time I spend inside in the air conditioning, including the week when it hit more than 100 degrees every day!
2. The doctor is in: I think people in the Midwest drink Dr. Pepper more than they do in New England. I grew up enjoying it in Missouri, and my high school friends and I would hang out at Darla’s house, who stocked Diet Dr. Pepper by the case! In the East, any mention of the beverage was usually greeted with a negative reaction, but I’ve noticed here both the regular and diet versions are available at most convenience stores and fast food places. I know I’m drinking it more since I got here.

3. Fiesta!: The Fiesta Mexicana in Topeka reminds me a lot of the St. Peter’s Fiesta in Gloucester, Massachusetts, though one is Mexican and the other is Italian. Houses near the festivities decorate for the occasion, music is played everywhere, and people fill the streets. One aspect I enjoyed more in Topeka was the food—traditional Mexican favorites made by volunteers from Our Lady of Guadalupe Church. The tacos, enchiladas, burritos and tostadas were terrific!
4. Just getting started: Every time I find myself in Downtown Lawrence, I discover some new place to explore, and I leave with a list of places to visit the next time. This is a downtown area that knows how to do things right by not only attracting the college students from near-by KU, but also offering shops, restaurants, and activities us somewhat more mature people will enjoy.

5. Speaking of Downtown Lawrence: I had a great meal at the Free State Brewing Company—a Brewery Burger made with locally raised beef and topped with blue cheese, washed down with a glass of their Copperhead Pale Ale. (

6. Lighting up KC: Drove through the updated Power and Light District of Kansas City a couple of weeks ago. Wow, what a beautiful place! Lots of restaurants, shops and clubs. I’m looking forward to exploring it more. Also, the Sprint Center looks amazing from the outside!

7. Speaking of KC: I enjoyed the Orecchiette Carbonara Gorgonzola at Osteria Il Centro on Main Street—“little ears” pasta with pancetta and a gorgonzola cream sauce. Mmmmm….(

8. Curler for Life: I’m hooked—I love the sport of curling, which is a bit surprising since I spent most of my first lesson falling on my butt! For those of you who don’t know the sport, it’s the one you see in the Winter Olympics where a large stone is slid down the ice, followed by a couple of people with “brooms” furiously sweeping along in front of it. On TV it looks simple. It’s not! But it’s getting easier every time I play, and now I’m totally hooked. The summer season is coming to a close this week, and I’m already looking forward to the next one starting up in October. (

9. School has started—already!: School starts early in Kansas. This week, to be exact. For you New Englanders, Kansas schools do not have a winter break, spring break is in March, and we get out of school before Memorial Day.

10. Waiting on Fall: I can feel summer’s end approaching, and I’m looking forward to seeing what a Kansas autumn has to offer. I know it will be very different from New England, but I’ve learned to enjoy this state’s unique qualities instead of judging it against New Hampshire.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Topeka Food Discoveries—So Far

I can’t believe how quickly the time has passed since my arrival in Kansas. Three weeks already! And I'm rapidly falling in love with my new home state and having a lot of fun exploring all that it has to offer—and I’ve just started to scratch the surface!

This past week I set out to discover some of the food offerings around Topeka. One of the best ways to do this is to visit the weekly farmer’s market, especially if you're like me and interested in local produce and products. Of course, the peaches I bought were from Georgia since the ones here aren’t yet ready! But I also bought some wonderful herb-garlic bread from The Summer Kitchen (the ladies appeared to be Mennonite,) and a great cinnamon roll for breakfast from Granny’s Kitchen.

Along with all the produce and baked goods, there were also dairy, meat, craft, furniture, and plant offerings. (I bought cat grass for my fur-ball, CJ.) It was a sunny, bright day, so I treated myself to a fresh-made limeade. And I learned about the Topeka Blues Society, who had a band there to entertain the market-goers. ( It was a wonderful way to spend a Saturday morning and I plan to become a regular! (

One sign that you are a serious foodie is when you spend an hour walking around a supermarket just to see what the store has to offer. I was guilty of doing just that at the Dillons in north Topeka—now my favorite supermarket. I also found a terrific gourmet food shop, Ice & Olives, that carries my favorite cheese, Port Salut from France (, and the wine shop next door, Lakeside Wine & Spirits, with a knowledgeable manager who convinced me to try a sauvignon blanc from the Thracian Valley in Bulgaria! (Not much of a risk at $7 a bottle.) And my roommate, Derrick, was already a regular customer of the Iwig Family Dairy in Tecumseh. There is something a bit magical and satisfying about buying milk in glass bottles straight from the farm. I also picked up a yummy coconut cream pie on one of our milk runs! (

I’ve even made the switch to a local coffee—the Coffeehouse Blend from PT’s Coffee Roasting Co. ( It’s a delicious way to get my caffeine jolt each morning as I enjoy the view from my new front porch.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

To Chain or Not to Chain

My first week in Kansas has been joyfully busy. I finally got my new bedroom painted, had coffee with an editor (and meeting with three more tomorrow), and enjoyed a Saturday afternoon learning about the sport of curling, though I spent most of the lesson’s first hour falling on my butt! I also got my favorite vanilla Diet Coke at a Sonic drive-in, a chain restaurant I haven’t been to in years since there are only three in New England, none of which are in New Hampshire.

As I was making the drive west, I realized there were many restaurant chains I haven’t been to in a very long time, and some not at all. I had breakfast one morning at Denny’s and dinner another day at Cracker Barrel, both of which were not in my part of New England. And I’ve never been to a Steak n’ Shake, but there are signs for them everywhere!

How do you feel about chain restaurants? It seems that in the “foodie” world, “chain” is a bad word. When I interview restaurant owners, most always point out how their menu selections and business practices are “not like a chain restaurant,” with the implication being that chains are inferior.

Overall I prefer to eat at local places to support the people following the dream of restaurant ownership and keep my money in the community. I like that the menu was created by the chef in the kitchen, often times utilizing local ingredients, instead of at a corporate headquarters. I would rather go to a local Italian restaurant than an Olive Garden, and a local pub instead of T.G.I. Friday’s or Chili’s. However, on the flip side, I do enjoy a quarter pounder with cheese or a chipotle chicken snack wrap from McDonalds, and a salsa roja tortada from Taco Bell. And a local chain restaurant is usually a franchise owned by someone in the area.

To chain or not to chain—that is today’s question. Do you enjoy chain restaurants or avoid them? What are your favorite restaurant chains and what do you order?

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Finally Home in the Midwest

I finally made it to my new home yesterday in Meriden, Kansas. Nine states in three days--whew, I'm glad that's over! My housemate, Derrick, and his daughter, made me feel very welcome, and since then have been helping me learn to navigate my new home and surroundings, including the huge, beautiful kitchen. It’s always an interesting experience trying to learn your way around someone else’s kitchen—where to find things like spoons, sugar, and bread (the box on the counter marked "bread" should have been my clue.) My first challenge this morning was finding the “on” switch to the Keurig single-cup coffee maker—hard to do before that first cup of coffee! I used the special basket to fill with my favorite brand—Newman’s Own Organic Special Blend—and the machine makes a great tasting cup of coffee, similar in flavor to ones made in a French press. The kitchen has just about everything I need, but I am looking forward to my stuff arriving so I can use my own knives, pots and pans, and Kitchen Aid mixer.

I’m also looking forward to cooking for more people than just myself. Today I enjoyed going through my recipe binder for ideas while making out a grocery list. On tomorrow’s menu—Snickerdoodle cookies, and cheese tortellini with ham and broccoli in a Parmesan cheese sauce (easer to make than it might sound.) I’m changing the tortellini recipe around a bit from the one I have—I’ll share the results.

An Extra Note: Here is a shout-out and big thank you to a Good Samaritan who helped in my travels. While stopping for gas on Sunday in London, Ohio, I noticed one of my tires was almost flat. Being a Sunday, I was worried no tire shops would be open to help fix the problem. I went into a TA truck stop and my Mom/traveling companion noticed a tire shop in the back. I went into the convenience store area and asked if someone could help. They said the guys only work on the big rigs, but sometimes will fix a car tire if they’re not busy. One of the tire guys, Dan, was in the shop on his break and offered to look at my tire. He found the screw that was causing the problem and plugged the leak, and then checked the air in all my tires. And he didn’t want to take any money for his work! If you ever wonder if there are still good, kind, thoughtful people out there who will help a stranger, I can tell you there are—and one’s named Dan at the TA truck stop in London, Ohio.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Westward Ho!

My journey west has begun. I had my last dinner in New Hampshire at the Barley House with Mom and my friend, Shannon. It was Burger Fest, with a menu full of unique selections. Mom (who flew out from Missouri to make the drive west with me) chose the black bean burger, but Shannon and I stated with the favored Dublin burger. Proceeds from Burger Fest go to help the Children’s Hospital at Dartmouth, so it was a good meal for a good cause.

After a late start today,  we made it to Rochester, NY for the first night. On our way, we stopped at Tammy’s Candy Kettle in Hoosick Falls, NY. The walls are covered with all types of bagged candy, and house-made chocolates fill the glass cases of this country-styled shop/restaurant. The place also serves lunch and dinner items: Huge burgers of all sizes, sandwiches, subs, and hand-cut fries. I had an Italian sub with the fries—a great meal. Absolutely worth the stop if you are on NY Rt. 7 not far from the Vermont border.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

The Ol' Neighborhood

My first nine and a half years in New Hampshire were spent on Wyman Street in Hillsborough. We were a close neighborhood—actually, that’s an understatement! Each Thanksgiving we celebrated as a neighborhood since most of our families lived far away, rotating to a different home each year. And if out-of-town family showed up, they were included in the fun. There was the one Christmas night when two feet of snow fell from the sky and we were all outside drinking Steve’s kick-ass homemade eggnog, singing carols, and riding 4-wheelers through the drifts. And every summer my ex and I held a huge barbecue to celebrate the Hillsborough hot air balloon festival.

Summertime was the best in the neighborhood. An ordinary workday evening would find everyone sitting on my front lawn until the mosquitoes ran us inside. We would chat while the kids played on the grass or zoomed their bikes down the road. One night we even took sidewalk chalk to the newly-paved street to leave our marks until the rain washed them away.

Sometimes, especially on the weekends, a spontaneous cookout would take place. Often it stared when we were hanging out on my deck when dinnertime approached and one of us would ask, “Want to cook something on the grill?” Then we would all take inventory of our respective refrigerators and freezers, making a quick run to the grocery store when necessary. Most of the time the menu consisted of hot dogs, hamburgers, and linguica (a Portuguese sausage.)

I went back to the ol’ neighborhood one more time this past week to visit my friends before I head west. As we sat in my friend Kathy’s front yard, all the memories came back. I will miss those times and these friends very much.

My neighbors were also my best taste-testers when I developed recipes. In their honor, here are three from an article on Kansas City-style barbecue that I wrote for the Concord Monitor in 2004. The barbecue rub and sauce were developed with the neighbors as taste-testers. And Kathy’s potato salad is requested for every cookout. (So are her deviled eggs, but I haven’t gotten that recipe…yet!)

Linda’s KC Rub
5 tablespoons brown sugar
1/4 cup paprika
2 teaspoons chili powder
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 tablespoons kosher salt
1 tablespoon black pepper
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1 tablespoon onion powder
1 tablespoon dried thyme

Mix all of the ingredients together and store in an air-tight container until ready to use.

Linda’s KC Barbecue Sauce
(I like a lot of celery seed in my sauce, but if it’s not one of your favorite flavors, just cut the amount in half.)
1 24-ounce bottle of Muri Glen organic ketchup
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup molasses
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon black pepper
2 tablespoons onion powder
2 tablespoons paprika
2 tablespoons celery seed
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon Tabasco sauce or favorite hot sauce
1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon liquid smoke (optional)

Combine all ingredients in a 2-quart sauce pan. Bring to a boil, then lower temperature and simmer for 30 minutes. Use right away, or refrigerate in a covered container until ready to use.

Kathy’s Potato Salad
3 pounds red potatoes, cut into cubes with skin on
2/3 cup mayonnaise
1 cup sour cream
1 tablespoon fresh or 1 teaspoon dried dill
1 tablespoon fresh or 1 teaspoon dried parsley
1/2 medium red onion, diced
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper

Boil potatoes in salted water until just done. Drain. In a large bowl mix the remaining ingredients and then toss in the potatoes. Cover and refrigerate for 4 hours before serving.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

My NH Favorites

As a food writer, the most common questions people ask me are “What’s your favorite restaurant?” or “Where’s a good place to eat in (insert town name here)?”
I have written about hundreds of restaurants, food shops, bakeries, and food events. For the Hippo alone I’ve written more than 500 articles in the past 2 1/2 years. Add to that the pieces I’ve written for the Concord Monitor, Around Concord magazine, New Hampshire Home, etc…well, you get the idea.

Here is a list of my top 20 food places in New Hampshire. These are the ones I keep going back to time and again. They are not in any particular order since what I choose varies depending on what I’m craving. The exception is number 1, which is my all-time favorite restaurant in the state.

My Top 20 New Hampshire Food Spots

1. Tooky Mills Restaurant and Pub, Hillsboro: This is my favorite restaurant. I’ve never had a bad meal here, and the atmosphere is relaxed and fun. The menu has something for everyone, with entrees such as the Garlic Balsamic Steak Tips, Three Bean and Vegetable Burrito, and Fish and Chips, with the fish dipped in a Guinness beer batter. But my favorite meal starts with a bowl of the clam chowder and/or a house salad, and then a selection of appetizers. My top choices: Bourbon Street Barbeque Shrimp—a true New Orleans style dish, which is not actually barbecued! (I don’t know where it got the name.) Large shrimp are sauteed in a buttery Cajun sauce that is so delicious you will use the soft bread sticks to soak up every drop. Or pick the Buffalo Tenders, made with chicken tenderloins dipped in beer batter, fried, and served with a wonderful buffalo sauce.

2. Beefside, Concord: The best roast beef sandwich around, and great barbecued pulled pork and seafood.

3. Madeleines, Concord: A French-style bakery with the absolute best croissants outside of France.

4. Apple Hill Farm, Concord: Owner Diane Souther makes the best pies in the area. I dream of those pies!

5. The Red Blazer, Concord: I get the same thing every time I go—roasted vegetable quesadilla, made with red peppers, corn, onions and cheese. Yummm. Plus the restaurant has an amazing selection of more than 30 beers on tap, with many regional microbrews.

6. The Barley House, Concord: I crave the Dublin Burger, a peppercorn charred hamburger topped with whiskey gravy, blue cheese, and crispy onions. I also enjoy the Irish-pub atmosphere that is conducive to a conversation with friends or just sitting quietly with a good book while you enjoy your meal.

7. The Red Arrow, Manchester or Milford: Look up the word “diner” in the dictionary and it will describe the Red Arrow. The menu is full of traditional diner fare, plus there are fun specials each day (I loved the eggnog French toast on Christmas morning.) Also, it is impossible to feel lonely in this place with the friendly staff and patrons at the counter. And I can’t leave without a Dinah finger, the diner’s take on the Twinkie.

8. Ichiban Japanese Steakhouse and Sushi Bar, Concord: I enjoy dinner at the hibachi table—a fun show and delicious food!

9. Granite Restaurant and Bar, Concord: This restaurant in the Centennial hotel has an elegant atmosphere, but the prices aren’t too outrageous thanks to the half order option.

10. Butter Fine Food and Wine, Concord: I can spend an hour checking out all of the imported food options. And the cheese case is top of the line.

11. Cotton, Manchester: Great art deco atmosphere. I like to check out what’s on the special’s menu.

12. Z Food and Drink, Manchester: Gotta have the Asian nachos!

13. Shabby Chic, Windham: Gourmet cupcakes—enough said!

14. Greenwood’s at Canterbury Shaker Village, Canterbury: Kicked-up Shaker fare.

15. Ignite, Manchester: Great atmosphere, and I crave the hot dog Ruben sandwich.

16. Johnny Troy’s, Manchester: Terrific thin-crust pizza and shrimp Siciliano.

17. 900 Degrees, Manchester: Love the Margherita and Bella Cosa pizzas.

18. The Sausage Source, Hillsboro: When the outdoor cart is open in the summer, I always have the chuck n’ cluck sandwich.

19. The Sausage King, Nashua: Great sausages (of course), buffalo chicken salad, and deep-fried Oreos!

20. Nonni’s Italian Eatery, Concord and Hillsboro: I always have the garlic knots, stromboli, and Penne Vodka ala Rosa. (The spaghetti Bolognese is terrific, too.)

So, what do you think? Do you agree? Disagree? Did I leave someone out?

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Starting Again: Can my writing be translated into Kansan?

Tonight I taught my last writing class for Concord Community Education. I have had some amazing students pass through my classes since I began in the Spring, 2007. They have ranged from high school students to retirees. I’ve had ones with intellectual disabilities who wrote the most poignant and heart-felt pieces, and an amazing 13 year-old who will one day win the Pulitzer Prize. Many of my students have gone on to have their first pieces published, and some have completed their first books and are in the long process of finding a publisher. Many will go on to successful writing careers should they choose to continue writing. I’m going to miss teaching—so much so that I plan to turn the two classes into a 10 or 12 week writer’s workshop once I get settled into my new home.

A few weeks ago, one of my students gave me a card. In it she called me her first writing mentor. I was shocked, amazed and pleased to know I had officially graduated to mentor status! It took me right back to those beginning more than a decade ago when I knew I wanted to write but was uncertain I ever would.

Now, in so many ways, I’m back to that uncertain beginning again. When I first thought of moving back to the Midwest, I played a major game of tug o’ war with fear about my writing career. The majority of my writing is based in New Hampshire and this region. If I moved west, would I be starting all over again? I feared it would feel as if my life as a writer had never actually happened.

I know, it’s silly, but most fears are just that—irrational thoughts that keep us awake at night. I’ve published more 1,000 articles for crying out loud! And, best of all, three Kansas magazines and one newspaper want to talk to me about writing for them once I get there. Still, a little seed of fear nudges the back of my brain: “What if they change their minds?” What if they don’t think I’m good enough?” “What if I really do have to start again?”

I love writing. Food and travel are my two favorite topics. Here in New Hampshire I know where to find the good restaurants, food shops, farm stands, etc. In New England, I know the tourist sites, fun places to spend a sunny afternoon, and the great shops for souvenirs.

I know nothing about Kansas. In some ways, that’s part of the fun! I can’t wait to explore and discover what the state has to offer. (And I’d love suggestions, hint, hint!) On the flip side, what will I write about? Where do I go to fine a wine expert, someone who knows how to bake the perfect croissant, and who has the best take-out Chinese food?

Starting again—it’s scary in many ways, but also full of excitement and possibilities. And as far as my writing goes, I’ll just have to hope the talent I nurtured here in New Hampshire can be translated for my new home state.

Monday, May 31, 2010

They Have Indian Food in Kansas?

I'm a food writer. The past 10 years of my New Hampshire life have been spent writing about restaurants, chefs, food events, and home cooking--1,000 articles worth! My friends all know that means, when it comes to food, I ask a lot of questions. Last March I was chatting on the phone with my friend, Derrick, who lives outside of Topeka, Kansas. He was telling me about a dinner with a friend at an Indian restaurant. My first thought was, "They have Indian food in Kansas?"

Well, I'm about to find out! Three weeks from today I'll be living in Meriden, Kansas. In other words, Hell has frozen over since the only way I ever thought I would leave New England was if that event took place. I've lived here for 18 years. I love the history, people and weather of this region. I love the fact that within a matter of an hour or two you can go from the ocean to the mountains. I love the traditional food--maple syrup, apples, pumpkins, blueberries, seafood, and boiled dinner--and the plethora of restaurants of all styles and ethnicities. And I love my friends, some of whom I've known for more than a decade.

I love my family more.

My parents live in Missouri, where I grew up, and it's time for me to move closer to them. Since my divorce two years ago, the family ties I have in the Midwest are stronger than the ones here, and are calling me home. So I decided in late autumn to move back, and when Derrick said he was looking for a roommate, I knew where I was going. Meriden is about 17 miles outside of Topeka, and just about 2 1/2 hours from my parents' home in little Hughesville, Missouri.

As much as I love New England, I'm just as excited to explore my new home. Especially the food. So let's head to the prairie and see what we find. I want to invite all of you to come along with me on my journey as I say goodbye to New England, drive across the country, and discover the cuisine of Kansas. My impression is of farmhouse food and Sunday dinners of pot roast or fried chicken. but I hear there is so much more, including Indian food. :) Let's find out--recipes included!