Local Foodie Goodness + A Food Fight with Hartford Symphony Orchestra!

“Approach love and cooking with reckless abandon.” – The Dalai Lama

It’s a glorious time of the year for local food.  Ramps are in season, fiddleheads are in season – the first radishes and micro greens are making an appearance!  And going into the summer, Farm to Table dinners will be popping up everywhere (including the Billy Grant’s Farm Dinner series at Rose’s Berry Farm which I cannot wait to attend).  I’ve been spoiled this week with local foods, starting with Let’s Start From Scratch preparing my first ever delivery meal for me:

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Beautiful organic poblano peppers stuffed with cauliflower and black beans over quinoa.  Healthy and delicious!  As a busy working momma, this freed up valuable time to blow bubbles with a mermaid:

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Molly is local and will create scratch meals based on your dietary preferences using the healthiest and most seasonal ingredients available.  Highly recommended!

In other seasonal fare:

sweet acre

The good folks at Sweet Acre Farm are partnering up with the Hartford Baking Company to offer an organic, super convenient CSA this summer!  It will be available for pick up at the HBC Cafe every week from mid June to mid October.  Sign up for it here!

stumptown

And while you’re at the HBC, grab the VERY BEST cold brew, made fresh with Stumptown Coffee daily.  I’m mildly obsessed with it to be honest.

In other exciting foodie news, the Hartford Symphony Orchestra will perform their 4th annual “Playing with Food” night on Saturday, May 21st!  I’ve attended and had the pleasure of interviewing Carolyn Kuan – Head Conductor and mastermind behind the series – in the past years.  She is presented with a series of dishes from each participating chef.  She then pairs a piece of music with the dish based on what it would ‘sound’ like.  For instance, a tuba may play the role of a fatty piece of beef.  There is a visual representation of the dishes as well as a talk back with the chefs (from M & M Bistro, The Connecticut Convention Center, and Concorde Restaurant) – and this year – a twist!  The dishes will be judged by a celebrity panel emceed by the ever creative Jacques Lamarre!  As a classical pianist, it’s not hard to get me to attend the symphony under any circumstances, and I can say with absolute certainty from years passed that this performance will be a visual and sensory feast for all the senses.  And if you’re hungry – never fear- MAX Catering will provide small bites during intermission in the lobby.  Purchase your tickets here and join me Saturday night for a lovely evening of culture, food and fun.

(and an enormous thank you to my friends at the Symphony for providing me with my tickets)

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A Taste @RealArtWays #playnice with mixology @NIXSHartford and five awesome events in September

Greetings friends!  I am writing this on Labor Day from the wonderful Lost Acres Vineyard, which is way better, quite frankly, than Starbucks:

lost acres working

Not pictured: my delicious pumpkin whoopie pie from Lost Acres Orchard, which is right up the road!  Time for fall, yes?

Speaking of autumn and local farms – I’ve rounded up some of my favorite, upcoming September events and they are listed below for your viewing pleasure.  But first, a recap of some of my favorite happenings from the last couple of weeks!  Not going to go into a crazy amount of detail, but I did have a lovely birthday (at Lost Acres, obviously), and my friend Emily hosted an equally lovely cocktail party called “Dazed and Infused” because she and her boyfriend Nick are really clever like that:

 

penelope and alex

Drawing at my party with her BFF Alex from next door, sporting a fetching Unicorn Horn courtesy of Auntie Cait

p on the balcony

Enjoying the balcony at Emily’s party

Penelope attended both parties of course, although she was regrettably absent from two fun events her Mama got to finally try out this week (alas, not everything is 18 month old approved – topping the list are probably French films on cooking and VIP cocktail mixers – which is what I did at Real Art Ways (for their Taste series) and at Nixs (for the cocktail party!)

Taryn invited me to the Taste featuring Chris Prosperi, and I rapturously accepted her invite as I’ve been following this event closely since it’s first season (details here if anyone’s interested!)

with taryn

Taryn and I.  Ain’t we cute?

Basically, the premise behind this concept is: a cozy, food themed movie in Real Art Way’s hipster cinema (wine encouraged!) followed by a q and a and “taste” of small plates with the chef in question.  Fabulous!  This Taste paired the work of Chris Prosperi – a gazpacho and panzanella to be exact – with movie from the Inventing Cuisine series featuring French Chef Michael Troisgros.   The whimsical film featured an in depth portrayal of the inner workings of one of the best kitchens in France (with some ‘heavily staged’ scenes according to Mr Prosperi) and elaborate, beautiful shots of some elevated haute cuisine.  Michael’s stage presence – he is a regular guest on WNPR’s Faith Middletown Show – was in full force post film:

chris prosperi

Preparing the panzanella!

metro bis panzanella

A group pairing of the gazpacho and panzanella, with a card from Chris’ home restaurant, Metro Bis in Simsbury

The next show is on September 29th will host Rachel Carr, of Six Main for a farm to chef, vegetarian/vegan/pescatarian evening.  Tickets are on sale here!  Highly recommended for the cerebral foodie who really appreciates the intellectual and visual aspects of cuisine.

Real Art Ways was one of the first Hartford venues I really experienced upon moving here through their Creative Cocktail Hour.  It was, therefore, from beloved old to shiny new to go in the course of a week from an event at RAW to a cocktail mixer at Hartford’s newest sexy newcomer – NIXs.  This Boston chain features a slick chandeliered, mirrored, pirated up interior (seriously, go check it out) creative, delicious mixology, and a nice offering of seafood entrees:

raw bar

Hello there, $1 happy hour raw bar!

I met my good friend, JC, at the bar, where she had discovered a $6 martini special which I promptly ordered too (in spite of the free cocktail samples circling the party – it was too good to pass up!)

cocktail with happy hour menu

Clementine vodka, grapefruit juice, triple sec, prosecco.  Heaven.

Next up: circling the cocktail party, playing nice with good friends, and trying every cocktail in sight!  Rich Clemens is the head Bar Manager at Nixs.  JC and I both know him from Tisane, and we did nerdly bonding over his Dr Who inspired “Bad Wolf” cocktail
nixs cocktails pouring

Fresh lemon juice, orange juice, Redemption Rye Whiskey, and honey simple syrup.  Plus this awesome quote: “I wanted to make a cocktail that is extraordinarily sexy like Billy Piper but badass like a pissed off Tardis.”  I can’t even.

Another personal favorite of mine was the Tequila Mockingbird (more clever names, yaaas):

pouring the watermelon one

“Alabama Slammer” style with silver tequila, slept gin, amaretto, lime juice, and orange juice

But the majority of people I talked to named the pretty Beach Please as their favorite:

nixs cucumber cooler

Pineapple vodka, cucumber juice, agave nectar, lime juice, and sparkling coconut water

I have pretty rampant ADHD and between the shiny chandeliers and the cocktails, I missed almost all of the food pairings

deviled egg

It was delicious.  But lonely.

So I most definitely need to go back to NIXs pronto to try more food offerings.  Fortunately, the new Bear’s Smokehouse is right around the corner, so JC, Rachael, and I headed over there for delicious BBQ.

rachael eating bbq

Rachael demonstrating great street eating skills with her Mac Attack.

Truly, a week full of Hartfordy goodness.  And there’s so much more coming up in September!  Below are five events I’m really looking forward to:

Open Farm Day in Granby: This is the epitomy of a family friendly event.  Grab the kids (or the dogs, or both) and head out to the farms in Granby for a day of expos, samples, and general wholesome earthy goodness.  From the goat cheese at Sweet Pea, to the fresh organic garlic at the Garlic Farm, to the peach cobbler at Lost Acres Orchard, to a free sample of wine at Lost Acres, you’ll have a good time and support local agriculture.  And bring the reusable tote you usually cart to the farmers’ market, because there will be plenty of fresh produce and other goodies for sale.

Taste of the Suburbs – our restaurant week featuring prixe fix menus of awesome deliciousness.  I’m currently in the throes of agony trying to decide between 50 West and El Pulpo.  Heavy stuff man.  Other strong, noteworthy contenders and favorites: Esca, Max’s Oyster Bar, Millwrights and Vinted.  Pick one – or two! and go enjoy between September 8 -21st.  Reservations strongly recommended.

Urban Challenge – West Hartford! You probably need to burn some calories after all the delicious feasting at restaurant week.   Why not do it the FUN way on September 19th – working in teams of two to decipher clues about local West Hartford stores and dashing from place to place ahead of some fierce competition!  And I mean ‘fierce’ in the most fashiony way, as dressing up is encouraged and Carolyn and I will be participating and BRINGING IT.  Early registration is strongly encouraged as the event will sell out. 

Harvest Party Dinner at Lost Acres  We attended this dinner last year and it was a blast.  Penelope and I picked grapes in the morning (which is totally free and a thing you can also do the day of if so inclined) and then headed back for a farm to chef dinner with Mike that evening, complete with many samplings of Lost Acres blends.  This event is also anticipated to sell out, so pre-registration is a good idea.

The Colin McEnroe Show’s Fifth Year Anniversary!  Attention, WNPR nerds.  The Colin McEnroe Show is turning 5 and YOU are invited as a fellow fan to celebarte at Infinity Hall in Hartford.  For the low price of $5 a person, come enjoy your favorite radio personalities and hobnob with hipsters (let’s just be realistic about that being a thing that will happen) at the gorgeous new Infinity Music Hall and Bistro in Downtown Hartford.

So that’s what I’ll be up to in September, and I hope many of you will join me!  Any cool events I missed?  Leave them in the comments please xo

 

 

 

#21DayFix Beachbody challenge – halfway through and feeling great!

When Erica approached me to do this challenge (and blog about it) I had a healthy amount of skepticism.  Mainly because, well, it’s a very busy time of year for vacations, and day drinking, and other things that don’t always vibe well with a workout and diet plan.  BUT I agreed, knowing I’d go through this with some cheats, so let’s just get those out of the way right now, shall we?

orange martini yaaaas

Oh my

cheats

Confession is good for the soul

rose at trumbull kitchen

I REGRET NOTHING

So, yeah, it would be factually inaccurate to say I’ve been following the 21 Day Fix to the letter (and I’ll be in Florida for the last week, so there’s that).  However, even with all of the above, I’ve already lost four pounds!

halfway through

Woohoo!

oh sads

Ok, this is a more accurate (read, honest) workout face

This is possible because, as with most things, following something to the letter isn’t the only way to make it more effective.  Yes, I may have had a couple more cocktails than the program calls for – and the occasional truffle potato chip.  But overall, my eating habits cleaned up quite drastically from before the program:

not so green photos

Look at the food in this picture.  Ice cream, pasta, arroz con pollo.  And a three pack of wine.

green photos

Now here’s a snapshot from this week.  Lots of green, leafy, fresh, vegetable laden dishes, and a no sugar added watermelon cooler.

That’s the funny thing about working out and eating right.  It really doesn’t take much to get good results!  And much of getting good results is making healthy choices.  Our dinner at Carbone’s last week is a great example of this.  I was a bit nervous about it, as I associate Italian places with pasta and really didn’t want to go off the deep end, as far as sticking to the eating plan.  But not only was I able to find an entree that was very healthy, it was also, by far, the most satisfying and delicious menu option for me:

veal medallions

Truly a win win!

peppered sea scallops

Another meal I was worried about (and shouldn’t have been) Taste of Hartford at Trumbull KitchenI ate all the peppered sea scallops, the watercress, and a small bite of the sticky rice.  Perfectly satisfying and quite healthy.

It also helps if, like me, you happen to love working out.  I just really do (sorry).  So, although I am not physically strong enough to follow the seven workouts per week – I average five days – two of those days are heavier work outs than the program calls for- such as a half hour of running and then cardio.  Or a power yoga class.  Again, it’s a matter of fixing bad habits, not reinventing your entire fitness and eating routine.

Also very useful, along with the eating plan and exercise DVDs (which I am going to be so happy to have this winter when it gets dark outside early and it’s too nasty to drive to the gym) there are these really delicious and healthy nutrient dense shakes in the 21 day fix:

shakeology and blazer

Vanilla shake with ice and orange juice

chocolate shake

Chocolate with kale, blueberries, and coffee.  Weird combo I know but it tastes delicious.  Also, a nice photobomb from P!

I come from a family of health freaks, and unfortunately I don’t always follow the good habits I learned as a kid, such as taking in plenty of vitamins.  These shakes are laden with dense nutrition – I can tell from my energy levels and skin tone – so it’s not just a meal replacement, it’s also a very healthy helping of things your body wants and needs to function at peak proficiency!

In addition to the shakes, I’ve developed a healthy addiction to G Monkey fresh squeezed beet juice, which is available at the Billings Forge Farmers’ Market every Thursday in the summer!

beet juice

Yummo

One more big, helpful factor for me: my CSA with the Garlic Farm!  Having a guaranteed portion of delicious, fresh, organic and GMO free vegetables per week is just awesome, and P really enjoys picking up the veggies, so it’s been a great experience so far:

p getting her csa

Eat more kale.  No seriously, do it

my kale brings all the boys to the yard

Kale jokes, courtesy of Bagels to Broccoli!  Ok, I’ll stop now

One other healthy habit I’m really enjoying about the 21 day fix is the water bar:

water bar

aka, #smugwater

Infused water is delicious, healthy, and very easy to do.  My favorite combo is blueberries and basil.  I’ve found I can start an infusion at work and leave it at my desk for several days (covered), topping up as needed, and it is delightful.  It’s very important to stay hydrated when dieting, as well as in the hot summer months, and all of this is especially true for me, as I’m anemic (another reason I’m not overly focused on calorie control).  I’m finding throughout this program that I am gaining healthy habits which I will certainly keep once the fix is over – the shakes, the healthier options, the water bar, the cardio boosts – it’s all going to be part of my daily routine as well as a more intensive program for the next ten days or so.  And I think that’s the most important thing: when you learn to be healthy, it becomes a natural part of who you are, leading to confidence, energy, and a boosted self esteem.  Modifications are important based on lifestyle and also history – I used to have an eating disorder so you won’t see me weighing in more than twice during this process – but overall, each tiny win on the road to being healthy leads to a happier life – and just maybe – a hotter bod.  🙂

@HSOtweets Talcott Mountain Music Festival and a farm to chef BBQ

Summertime in Connecticut means that the Hartford Symphony Orchestra moves out doors to the Simsbury Meadows (double check info) for five fun and family friendly concerts, each featuring a different theme.  We attended last Friday and were blown away by the Orchestra’s collaboration with Morgan James, Capathia Jenkins, and Randall Craig Fleischer for Broadway Rocks!

hartford courant media partner

This is my favorite media partnership yaas

hartford mag and flowers

A Hartford Magazine on each and every table!  Nice

We had a very nice group of ladies in attendance (plus one gentleman boyfriend who graciously offered to snap this picture)

ladies at talcott

Pictured left to right: Diane Taha of the Greater Hartford Arts Council, Carolyn Paine of Connetic DanceRachael Forker of Onyx Moonshine, Me! of CTNow/Hartford Courant, and Emily Cahill of Yelp, Hartford.  Quite the power group.

Speaking of Onyx, Rachael was kind enough to bring us Cranberry Onyx Margaritas.  I’m glad I haven’t had the chance to try the Cranberry Onyx before this… the margarita blend was such a nice blend of citrus and tart – it was the serendipitous introduction.

moonshine yaaas

Plus, the Onyx looked really nice in my new mason jar cocktail glasses.

In addition to friends actually in attendance, we had friends who were there in spirit:

caitlin and 90 plus cellars

Haha, hi Cait!  Flanked by two bottles of 90 Plus Cellars, quite appropriately.

Emily mixed her 90 Plus Prosecco with a home made blueberry and basil simple syrup, which will hopefully serve as a nice base for many a future summer cocktail meet up.  We also had some great offerings from our partners for Talcott:

three sisters wine

The always amazing Rosedale wines

fruit tart

And finger foods from Fitzgeralds.  The fruit tarts are my actual favorites.  I crave them in the winter because I associate them with Talcott and summertime.

All the food, libations, and camaraderie were an excellent back drop to the main attraction: the music.  I’m a self professed classical music nerd, due to many, many hours on the piano in my formative years.  And who doesn’t like a good Broadway tune?  The beauty of Talcott is that it takes a higher brow concept, like the Symphony, and combines it with the mass appeal of pop music:

talcott crowd

Demonstrated with this crowd here.  The perfect weather probably didn’t hurt.

There was plenty of singing along to crowd favorites from Wicked, The Phantom of the Opera, and to round things off: a flash mob from The Age of Aquarius!

dancing onstage

Fun

Oh, also there were fireworks.  And a perfect, full Hunter’s Moon.

talcott moonlight

So, basically, the best night out I can remember in quite some time!

Also fun and relaxing was hosting a farm to chef BBQ on Sunday.  Yes, I know that term gets bandied about quite a bit, but the lion’s share of the ingredients were sourced from farms within 5 miles of my house that very day, so I feel like it’s justified.

p wiz tomato haz

Behold the tiny hunter gatherer

Penelope loves trips to the Garlic Farm, which is useful as I currently write their newsletter and we have a CSA starting up soon.  It seems like a great thing to do with a baby – tactile development, GMO and pesticide free vegetables, shapes, colors – plus, at the end, we have fresh delicious things to eat

hartford baking co

Hallo beauties

My friend Amanda and I headed up to Lost Acres for local wine whilst the men folk stayed at home with the kids.  Naturally, this led to a glass of wine on the patio, with jazz playing in the background

dry riesling

If you haven’t been to Lost Acres and you live close by, just go.  It’s so worth it

Once back home, I prepped a very simple bruschetta (recipe below) and cracked open another bottle – one I’ve been saving for some time, waiting for the right pairing:

ironside bruschetta

Tada!  Plus Ironside Cabernet – courtesy of Cait – from the same folks behind the 90 Plus Cellars Brand

The tomatoes from the Garlic Farm were beef tomatoes – rich and meaty, with a thick, juicy texture which I felt would pair better with red wine then a right.  The nicely balanced tannic quality of the Ironside blended nicely with the crunchy, balsamic  bruschetta.  Plus, I was pleasantly surprised at the thinnish mouthfeel of Ironside – it’s got a three dimensional, robust flavor palatte but a more maleable body then many cabernets, which also lends itself well to summer drinking!  Ok yes, I just learned “mouthfeel” and I’ve been dying to use it in a sentence.  True wine snobs feel free to attack me in the comments. 🙂

The Ironside also worked very well with Sweet Pea local burgers and watermelon feta arugula salad (stolen from the Capital Grille’s summer menu, thank you very much).  It’s the first wine created by the 90 Plus Cellars company, and the backstory is quite charming too!  Always nice to read about or drink a wine that you have a bit of a personal connection to, don’t you think?  (My connection, if it’s not obvious, is Cait, who now works for 90 Plus as a marketing lady extraordinairre).

hamburger and saladt

Also pictured: marinated shrimp.  And you can’t see it, but there is black pepper Sweet Pea chevre on top of the burger.

It’s definitely worth it to go local, fresh, and seasonal for a BBQ.  The bruschetta alone packed a much bigger flavor punch then many I’ve prepared in the past, due to the extremely fresh ingredients.  Plus, there’s the added satisfaction of sustainability and knowing you’re supporting local agriculture.  I’m thinking that when we go to the Florida Keys in August, I’ll try to make a Floridian version of farm to table (sea to table?) with fresh grouper and citruses.  Ah yes.  Let the good (summer) times roll!

Farm fresh bruschetta

Beef Tomatoes

Fresh garlic

Fresh basil

Balsamic vinagrette

Extra virgin olive oil

Rock salt and fresh cracked pepper

Fresh ciabatta bread

Cube tomatoes and combine with slivered garlic and torn up basil in a medium sized bowl.  Drizzle with olive oil and balsamic and season to taste.  Refrigerate for at least 1/2 an hour and up to four hours.  Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees, thin slice the ciabatta and drizzle with a bit of olive oil.  Lightly toast the ciabatta and then spoon the bruschetta on top and serve immediately.

 

A Farmer’s Market Roundup

Hello!  Summer is right around the corner, and with it, the chance to buy everything from cheese to veggies to Onyx Moonshine outside and locally at the Farmer’s Market.  Below is a round up of some of my favorite markets, as well as those recommended by Facebook friends in CT.

…and speaking of summer, the 90 + Cellar’s Rose Cruise is right around the corner too, on June 7th!  I’m very excited to travel up to Boston to attend this event (only a couple hours away – I love CT) and tickets are available today with a $10 discount when you use the code DRINKROSE33.  Visit here to purchase:  http://bit.ly/drinkrose14

rose glasses

OK!  back to the farmers market.  Top dog in town appears to be, by an overwhelming majority, Coventry Farmer’s Market.  Which makes sense, as it’s the largest in the state, features amazing happenings such as the annual Farm to Shaker competition, and also won the Best of Hartford readers’ poll this year!

coventry

Here is Winter and her amazing crew celebrating their win, along with a Celebrity Chicken.  Photo courtesy of Robert Cooper for Ctnow.com

I went to Coventry last summer with a wee Penelope and Caitlin, and she did a write up of it on her blog, which is here if anyone wants to read it/see cute vintage Penelope baby pictures.  If you want to visit, the market takes place every Sunday from April to October.

But just because Coventry is amazing doesn’t mean we should ignore the other amazing markets in the state!  Next up on the list is Billings Forge, which is an urban year round market located on Broad St in Hartford.  It’s within walking distance of my office, and I stroll down all the time to get goodies such as fresh greens from Collinsville, goat cheese from Sweet P (which I can also get, to be fair, within a couple miles of my house but it’s nice to see it in the city!) and kale and radishes from Simsbury.  The Billings Forge market also accepts food stamps and is a great way to bring fresh, green things to the city.  And in the summer, you can catch the Nora Cupcake truck or the amazing vegan G Monkey Mobile for a fresh twist on lunch!  The Billings Forge market takes place every Thursday, all year round.

It would be wrong to make this list and not include my home town market of course.  I feel like all of the Granbys are basically a giant farmers’ stand in the summer – with fresh goat cheese available at Sweet P, local wine at Lost Acres, and many, many little vegetable stands.  It’s pretty great, and so is our stand alone farmers market, which runs from June – October.  One of the best wares to come out of our region, in my opinion, are gorgeous wildflowers, so if you’re looking to pretty up your next dinner party or surprise a significant other, you know where to go!

OK, on to the recommendations.  LeeAnne – our favorite resident foodie- gives a shout out to Coventry (of course) but also recommends her local Ellington or  South Windsor markets.  Jennifer Crookes Carpenter – PR lady extraordinaire – has home town pride in Collinsville, and their market which includes: he best ramps, garlic and tomatoes around (plus a one-eyed rooster),” which sounds pretty amazing.  And my awesome coworker Rebecca gave me a tip for another urban market near Hartford Hospital on Fridays (cool – especially for anyone who is staying in the hospital long term), plus the Suffield Farmers’ Market – which is also close to home for me, so I’ll be checking it out this summer once it opens in June.  Thanks everyone for the tips!

If you have a local, favorite market which isn’t mentioned here, please leave it in the comments below 🙂