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. www.tookymillspub.com

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

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

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

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. www.theredblazer.com

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. www.thebarleyhouse.com

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. www.redarrowdiner.com

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

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. www.graniterestaurant.com

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. www.buttersfinefood.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.) www.nonnisitalianeatery.com

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.