Weekend Recap: October 24-25

For the most part, I’d say we had a pretty lazy weekend. We live in Salem, Massachusetts which can get very chaotic this time of year during Haunted Happenings. I know how much fun it can all be as a tourist, and as a resident too, but sometimes as a local the crowds become too much to bear and we hibernate at home (no pun intended)! Essentially, this is what we did, enjoying the couch life and all the football watching the weekend brings. However, we did manage to make it out of the apartment a few times for some food (of course), drinks, and a tiny bit of sightseeing!

We didn’t do anything Friday night, so our first stop this weekend was on Saturday at lunchtime. We decided to go to Sylvan Street Grille in Peabody. I hadn’t been in a few years actually, and the last time I was supposed to go someone crashed into my car and I never made it. So, I was glad to finally revisit it this weekend!

I'm unsure who this patron is, but I wanted to capture a view of the bar and TVS

I’m unsure who this patron is, but I wanted to capture a view of the bar and some of the many TVs at Sylvan St. Grille

Sylvan Street Grille is a casual restaurant and bar with great service and a large, fulfilling menu for both food and drinks. They have many TVs in the bar, which were all playing various college football games. This was essentially Nick’s heaven, and I felt cozy here as well.  No need to get fancy, you can just come here to get some good drinks and food and have a fun time out. In fact, the motto on their website is “Eat, Drink and Chill at the Sylvan Street Grille”.

cranberry sangria

I started with the Cranberry Sangria from the specials of the day menu. Sangria is always one of my go-to’s and this one was pretty strong, but I’m a gal who likes to get her money’s worth, so I didn’t mind. Nick tried a Dogfish pumpkin ale, and he really enjoyed it as it was a strong beer with an unoffending level of pumpkin flavor. For lunch, I ordered the Asian Sesame Chicken Salad, which included grilled Teriyaki chicken breast, with sesame angel hair pasta, mixed greens, tomato, shredded carrots, crispy wantons and a homemade honey mustard sauce. I absolutely love these types of Asian salads with cold noodles, and I would definitely order this one again. Nick ordered a Chicken Parmesan sandwich and was very satisfied with his choice as well.

I had already dug into the salad when I took this photo...it did have a nice presentation before!

I had already dug into the salad when I took this photo…it did have a nice presentation before!

Nick's Chicken Parm sandwich, comfort food if you ask me

Nick’s Chicken Parm sandwich, comfort food if you ask me

I really wanted to try one of the delicious dessert options available on the Sylvan Street menu, but I didn’t know if I could stand any more food. I decided to combine my need for something sweet with a second drink order (I wasn’t driving). I chose the Blueberry Pie beer/cocktail combo of Wachusett blueberry ale with a shot of Absolut vanilla vodka (it might have been Pinnacle Whipped, I can’t find it on the online menu) and a graham cracker crust rim. With fresh blueberries inside, this combination was an incredible (and easily re-creatable at home!) palate-pleaser. The graham cracker crust was a sweet touch and the drink really did have the flavor of blueberry pie. YUM!

blueberry beer cocktail

While we didn’t do much after Sylvan Street Grille besides hang out at home and watch Halloween movies, we got out a bit on Sunday again. For more food, what else. I’ve started running again, so I don’t feel as terrible about all the food we consume, but when you love to try out restaurants, and combine that with writing about them, it becomes hard to not indulge!

Our initial idea on Sunday morning was to go to the Driftwood restaurant in Marblehead . I enjoy exploring other dining options in our surrounding towns here on the North Shore. However, upon arriving at the Driftwood, there was a pretty large group of people waiting outside and we weren’t sure if we were up for that. I figured this might happen, as I had read good reviews of the restaurant online before we left the house, so I don’t know why I didn’t just stay away if I wasn’t in the mood for crowds but alas. We kept driving through Old Town in Marblehead and came across some beautiful ocean views via the harbor, even though the morning was overcast. It made for a nice October effect over the landscape.

The view over Marblehead Harbor

The view across Marblehead Harbor

We walked a bit, admiring the seaside scenery. Then we got back in the car to meander through these historic neighborhoods as we headed back towards Salem. I had to make Nick stop so I could take a photo of one of my (many) dream houses that I come across here in coastal New England. The houses in this neighborhood are the epitome of classic New England, with many built in the early-mid 1700s, and one that was built in the 1660s! Imagine living there!

Marblehead house

The newest of my many New England dream houses…I love the classic red of these colonial homes, and the festive pumpkins across the door frame

At this point, I figured that we might as well try breakfast in Salem after all, and since I knew the Salem Diner was close to the Marblehead line, that’s where we headed. I hadn’t been there before, but had always seen it on my way to class as it sits in a vintage diner car right across from Salem State’s Central Campus. Luckily, it was around lunchtime by this point and we didn’t have a wait to sit down. I enjoyed the old diner car atmosphere and being around students. It brought me back to my college days, which are getting further and further into the past. When we looked at the menu, I noticed that it stated that the Salem Diner was run by Chartwells, which is the company that runs all the food programs at Salem State. Interesting! I had completely forgotten that the school purchased this diner early last year and reopened it.

The interior of the old diner car that is the Salem Diner

The interior of the old diner car that is the Salem Diner

Nick and I both ordered coffee and Western omelets, with ham, peppers and onions. I got cheddar cheese and Nick got American. The omelets came with home fries and your choice of toast. Home fries are a kryptonite of mine, and I think I ate more of those than I even ate of the omelet. In honesty, I wasn’t even that hungry while we were there so I only ate about half of my meal, but it was simple, classic breakfast fare and just what we needed at that moment.

After our meal at the Salem Diner we headed home again as Sunday is laundry and football day for us, as I’m sure it is for many of you! We were able to get out once more later that day, because temperatures were in the 60s and a nice walk was a necessity. We strolled around the Derby Wharf to Pickering Wharf area and made a pit stop into Jaho Coffee & Tea for a couple lattes (read my rave review of Jaho here). Granted, it was 6:00pm but I needed a pick-me-up, and I had gone to bed early the past couple of nights anyway. I ordered a French Toast latte, which has become my new favorite flavor there, and Nick ordered a Pumpkin Spice latte. (Yes, as you may have noticed, he’s very down with the pumpkin spice craze.) I also ordered an apple cider donut, well, because I clearly didn’t need it but…fall. And my sweet tooth dominates my life.

latte and donut

On our walk back, we admired the pumpkins and Halloween decorations that can be found everywhere around our neighborhood because this is Salem, Massachusetts, after all – Halloween capital of the U.S.!

A blurry photo from Nick's phone, but as Nick said, I look overly excited to see pumpkins everywhere...well yes, because I love fall!

A blurry photo from Nick’s phone, but as Nick said, I look overly excited to see pumpkins everywhere…well yes, because I love fall!

I also took a picture of another dreamy antique house, The Daniels House. Built in 1667, this house is now a bed and breakfast. I think this would be a wonderful place to stay for any history buffs who come to visit Salem and want to fully immerse themselves in its old charm!

salem house

Later on, the night was capped off by another yet walk because as crazy as this city can get this time of year, it’s home now and there is no more beautiful place in my eyes. I will always be able to see why so many people choose to make it a must-visit destination on their October itinerary, and year-round as well. That’s how I first discovered it, years ago as a tourist with my family.  Happy Halloween Week!

Featured:
Sylvan Street Grille – 12 Sylvan Street, Peabody, MA, 978.774.1724 (also a location at 195 Elm St. in Salisbury, MA)
Salem Diner – 70 Loring Avenue, Salem, MA
Jaho Coffee & Tea – 197 Derby Street, Salem, MA, 978.744.4300 (also located at 1651 Washington St. in Boston’s South End, and a coffee roaster and wine bar location at 665 Washington St. in Boston)

Apple Cider, a New England Favorite (with a twist)

You can usually find me out and about exploring New England, but sometimes I enjoy staying home in the comfort of my cozy apartment, especially when it’s chilly out. I’m no pro, but I do like to experiment in the kitchen a lot these days now that I finally have a live-in taste tester, a.k.a. my boyfriend!

Last night, Nick and I were hanging out at home when I opened my fridge to a gallon of apple cider I had purchased a couple days before. I thought, what better way to warm up on a cold New England night than with some hot apple cider with a twist?

The only liquor I had on hand was a bottle of white wine, so I set out to explore the internet and see what I could find in combining the two. I found a great recipe for “Hot Spiced Drunken Apple Cider” on Food52.com, but realized I didn’t have all the ingredients. I refused to give up on my idea, however! I just decided to go with an adaptation of this recipe based on what I did have.

The ingredients (after I started using them!)

The ingredients (after I started using them!)

The ingredients I ended up using were:

  • 1/2 gallon of apple cider (per the Food52 recipe)
  • 3/4 bottle of white wine (per the Food52 recipe…they suggest a semi- sweet white wine or one that’s not overly dry – all I had was Cupcake Angel Food and it worked for me!)
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons of ground cinnamon (the original recipe calls 4-5 sticks of cinnamon, but I only had ground…1/2 teaspoon is about equal to one stick, so says the internet)
  • 3 tablespoons of honey (per the Food52 recipe)

Step One of the recipe is to add the cider and spices in a pot and bring to a boil. So, I added the cider and cinnamon, stirred it up, and set the burner on. I felt like it was starting to burn a bit, and because I used ground cinnamon it was developing a coating, so I didn’t bring it to a full boil but close enough. I am meticulous in most aspects of my life, but oddly when it comes to the kitchen, I sometimes stray from being exact.

apple cider in pot 2

The next step was to reduce heat and let simmer for about 10 minutes, which I did. I originally added a little too much cinnamon and it kept building a layer (don’t worry, I’ve altered the ingredients above to be correct if you’re using ground cinnamon like I was). However, upon tasting, it seemed fine so sometimes mistakes aren’t so terrible!

The third step was to add the wine while the concoction was on low heat. The recipe said to just continue letting it simmer afterwards, so as not to let the alcohol evaporate. I let it simmer for a few minutes when the craving and delicious scent of the cider and wine mulling was just too much to not imbibe right then and there.

pouring wine 2

I filled up Nick’s glass first in an initial mug I had gotten him at Michael’s craft store, and added a Halloween colored straw for the final touch. He absolutely loved this drink, and I must say, so did I!

last one

Although I didn’t have all of the correct ingredients, it still tasted amazing and warmed our hands, tummies, and souls on that cold autumn night. This goes to show, if you are dead set on cooking something up, even if you don’t have all the right ingredients (within reason), there can be ways to work around it and make something delicious! I often find this is the case for me, and I’ve never been disappointed with my version of things. Cheers!

Original recipe found on Food52.com, created by member Cordelia, titled “Hot Spiced Drunken Apple Cider

Portland Part 2

The other day, I posted about our trip to Portland, Maine for our 2nd anniversary – click here to read about our first night! Today I’ll be sharing all the details of our second fun-filled night in this beautiful coastal city.

breakfast

We had a little too much fun at Top of the East the night before, so we wanted to start our day off with a hearty pick-me-up. After doing some research into top breakfast spots around Portland, we chose The Front Room on Congress Street. It had a cute country, rustic vibe to the atmosphere, and I thoroughly enjoyed my 3-egg omelet with ham, peppers, and cheddar cheese with a side of homefries. I must say, I also enjoyed the mimosa selection, and my apple cider mimosa…a little hair of the dog, as they say!

view from hill

After a filling breakfast, we headed toward Fort Allen Park which has the most beautiful views of Casco Bay. As you can see above, the view from the top of the hill was as pretty as a painting, and of course, even nicer in person!

path

Once down the hill, you can admire the views from close up as you walk along the Eastern Promenade Trail. We took this path all the way into downtown, seeing some interesting sights on the way.

train

We were passed (and I was scared by) a honking train, filled with tourists, as it made its way down tracks beside us.

Portland is a destination for many luxury cruise ships as they travel up to Canadian waters. We spotted a massive ship docked in the bay alongside where we were walking. I’m sure this generates quite a bit in tourism money for the city.

Is this not the cutest little guy you’ve ever seen? Once we arrived closer to the downtown, there was a farmers’ market of sorts going on near the path. I saw this little goat and just had to take a picture. His name is Rumplestiltskin and he is a dwarf goat who lives at Sylvan Woods Farm in Poland, Maine. Two people from the farm were there with him, selling goat’s milk soaps and products (great for the skin!) and let me grab a picture. I can see a dwarf goat as a pet in my future…

donut sign

When we first arrived downtown, I was craving ice cream, but the place we stopped into was cash only, which we didn’t have. It was then that fate intervened and I remembered being recommended to visit The Holy Donut, a glorious donut shop in Old Port that makes their donuts with real Maine potato. So it was there we headed! We arrived just in time, as a long line formed behind us once we were inside this heavenly scented shop. However, it was run like clockwork and the line kept moving.

As we got closer to the counter, we were under the gun to choose a flavor, so I went with Sea Salt Dark Chocolate and Nick chose Maine Blueberry. We were extremely glad that we ran out of cash and remembered The Holy Donut recommendation! We would have missed out on a wonderful treat otherwise.

After satisfying the sweet tooth, we decided to grab a drink at Gritty McDuff’s Brew Pub. They had a nice selection of their own craft beers, and I went with the Halloween Ale while Nick chose the Best Bitter Ale. It was a welcoming spot to grab a lunchtime pint, perfectly brewed.

grittys

I wasn’t hungry while we were at Gritty McDuff’s but I was afterwards once we did some more walking around, of course! It was then that we stopped into Old Port Tavern. To my good fortune, they had Haddock Chowder on the menu, which I had been thinking about since my first time trying it the night before. I never find haddock chowder anywhere else so I thought, might as well maximize my ability to get it while I can!

haddock chowder 2

The decor and feel of Old Port Tavern was under-the-sea nautical themed, and it seemed like a place where you can watch a big game, have some fun-loving chatter with the people around you, and grab a good drink and some chow.

bar

We did some souvenir shopping following our stop at Old Port Tavern, and Nick bought a sweatshirt to keep warm because we were about to board for a Sunset Lighthouse Cruise with Portland Discovery Land and Sea Tours! We arrived early to get in line for better seats and we were able to sit in the front row of the top of the boat, close to the tour guide and captain’s quarters.

We embarked on a beautiful journey to learn more about Portland and all its coastal scenery and history. It was a fun tour and I learned so much more about the area, thanks to our great guide and captain. We were even able to spot some animal life, including a couple of adorable seals on rocks! Oh, and having a bar on the boat was nice too 😉  I captured a few nice views below before my phone sadly died or I would have posted more lighthouse-related pictures!

tour 1

tour 2

Nick caught this up-close shot of one of the lighthouses we learned about on our tour. A family of, I believe, nine used to live here. Can you imagine raising that large of a family at a lighthouse? It would be a life unlike no other, I’d imagine!

other lighthouse

A word of advice if you ever take this cruise: BRING WARM CLOTHES. I can’t stress that enough. Although it was a warm day, it was MUCH colder out there on the water. I thought I was prepared with a jacket, but a jean jacket didn’t cut it! Other than that, I had a wonderful time aboard.

After getting off the boat and getting our land legs back, we headed out in search of somewhere to have dinner in the city. We walked around and around until we agreed upon a meal on the pretty patio of Timber Steakhouse and Rotisserie.

timber sign

The drink menu was large, with many flavorful cocktails and an excellent wine selection, but unfortunately I was all cocktailed/beer’d out for the night and stuck to water. Instead, I focused on the food and ordered Cornbread Fritters for an appetizer and Slow Roasted 1/2 Rotisserie Chicken with a side of mashed potatoes for the main course.

The Cornbread Fritters were a great choice for an appetizer, not too filling but good enough to share between the two of us with a yummy spicy remoulade to go with them. I love rotisserie chicken any night of the week, and this one was especially tasty as it was, according to the menu, “brined in maple bourbon, rosemary and garlic for 24 hours then slowly roasted to perfection”. Nick ordered the Hard Apple Cider Glazed Baby Back Ribs from the appetizer menu for his main meal and devoured it. I tried a bite as well, and it was certainly satisfying.

Unfortunately, my phone was long dead at this point so I couldn’t take any pictures of our meal. Just know, it was worth the argument we got into trying to decide upon what we wanted for dinner before we came across Timber! This was mainly because we hadn’t set out with a plan (my fault) and didn’t make reservations anywhere so waits were very long. Luckily, Timber had a nice big patio  aside of indoor seating, so we were able to be seated instantly there and it all worked out nicely.

nick and i

We were so tired out from all the activity (and hearty food and libations) of the past two days that following dinner, we called it a night and took a cab back to the hotel where we promptly fell asleep before 11pm. When we woke up the next day, it was raining out so we thought it best to head home and get back to our regular lives. I’ll always remember what fun we had on our first trip to Portland, and I’m already looking forward to the next time we can make a trip back to try out even more of the top-notch  restaurants and coastal excitement that this awesome city has to offer!

Featured:
The Front Room – 73 Congress Street, Portland, ME, 207.773.3366
Sylvan Woods Farm –  207.330.8368
The Holy Donut – (2 locations) 194 Park Ave. and 7 Exchange St., Portland, ME
Gritty McDuff’s Brew Pub Portland – 396 Fore Street, Portland, ME, 207.772.BREW
 The Old Port Tavern – 11 Moulton Street, Portland, ME, 207.774.7016
Portland Discovery Land and Sea Tours – Long Wharf, Portland, ME, 207.774.0808
Timber Steakhouse and Rotisserie – 106 Exchange Street, Portland, ME, 207.805.1469

Portland Part 1

A classic coastal New England streetscape can be found in Old Port

Classic coastal New England streetscapes can be found in Old Port and all across the city

Recently, Nick and I celebrated our 2nd anniversary. I can’t believe it’s only been two years! Most of the time it feels like I’ve known him my whole life. We love going to Maine to celebrate special occasions like this together. This time, we decided to spend a weekend in Portland. I’d never been before, and was excited to experience this coastal New England city that I’d heard such rave reviews about.

Let me tell you – if you’re looking for anywhere to do a culinary or bar tour of in New England, Portland is  a MUST visit.  Everywhere you turn there is a restaurant, bar, or other food or sweets shop. I’d heard tell of this from friends when I asked for recommendations of what to do in the city, as well as from our various cab drivers. I’m not ashamed to admit that most of our time is occupied with thinking about food, making it, or going out to restaurants and bars. There are just so many options these days! So, when we arrived in Maine, checked into our hotel in Scarborough (it saved a lot of money to stay outside of the city), and got dropped off in Old Port at dinnertime, finding something to chow down on was first on my list.

We walked around Old Port, a bustling and historic part of Portland, looking in windows and doorways of numerous bars, restaurants and shops – it was slightly daunting! When faced with too many choices, I sometimes begin to withdraw. Decision making is not my forte! We chose to just continue walking around to view more of the city. We ended up in the eclectic Arts District. People-watching in this area was top notch! We kept on the hunt for somewhere to grab a drink and eat, and finally settled on Congress Bar and Grill because they had tables and chairs on the sidewalk and we wanted to eat outside.

congress menus

Our waitress, Jen I believe, was incredibly friendly and welcomed us to the city. My day was absolutely made when I saw Haddock Chowder on the menu. If you’ve followed the blog, you may know that I’m allergic to a majority of shellfish and can’t have clam chowder. Living in New England my whole life, this is something that has haunted me. I’ve longed for that seafood taste in the comfort of a chowder, but always had to settle for something else as clam chowder was usually the only offering. However, not here! The Haddock Chowder was heavenly and all the feelings of being left out of the seafood chowder club instantly melted away. I could have eaten ten bowls of this stuff, never mind the tasty grilled biscuits it came with!

I could eat this haddock chowder every day for life and be happy

I could eat this haddock chowder every day for life and be happy

As for drinks, I had the Strawberry Vodka Lemonade, which included Svedka vodka and lemonade with house infused Grand Marnier strawberry purée. The purée really added a nice, fresh touch to this already yummy cocktail.

strawberry vodka

Jen, the waitress, recommended if we wanted to continue getting drinks after leaving Congress, we should head to Top of the East, on the last floor of the Westin Hotel down the street. That sounded like a great idea to us, so we headed over there after paying the bill.

If you ever visit Portland, take my word when I say you cannot leave before having a drink (or two, or three…) at Top of the East. After taking the elevator to the top floor and walking up some stairs, we entered a beautiful, elegant lounge with floor to ceiling glass windows on all sides, providing the best sunset views of Portland that we could imagine finding indoors.

Unfortunately, pictures from my Galaxy were unable to effectively capture the view from the top - but trust me, it was a sight to see!

Unfortunately, pictures from my Galaxy phone were unable to effectively capture the view from the top – but trust me, it was a sight to see!

The bartender that night, Jaren, hails from Miami and was fantastic at his job. We would sit just watching him mix drinks with flair, and he was so outgoing as well.  I wanted one of the non-alcoholic drinks (called Temperance Cocktails here), but with alcohol of course, so Jaren added gin and it quickly became my new favorite. I can’t remember the exact name of the drink (it looks like their online menu has been updated in the past week to reflect newer autumn cocktails) but I know it had Maine blueberries in, that’s for sure, and I believe it had mint as well.

blueberry cocktail

For the most part, Nick stuck to Allagash beer, which is brewed right in Portland. We had the best time just enjoying the luxurious yet upbeat atmosphere of Top of the East and the company and chatter of the bartenders and barbacks. It felt like we were there for hours, and we probably were. Everyone we had interacted with thus far in Portland was really friendly and inviting. It made us feel at home there.

top of the east

Cool lights add a relaxing ambience to the lounge as Jaren, the bartender, mixes up a cocktail in the bottom right

We rounded out the evening by splitting a margarita, another masterfully made drink by Jaren. We then took an Uber back to our hotel, although I wished we were staying at the Westin! Maybe next time when we have just a bit more money to spend 🙂

Overall our first night in Portland was a success, and we didn’t even have to visit a hundred places to be happy. Sometimes, it can be overwhelming visiting a new area because you feel like you have to fit every single activity and must-see place in at once. But, if you’re having a great time right where you are, why rush it? That’s what we learned from this mini-vacation. Stay tuned for Part 2!

Featured:
Congress Bar and Grill – 617 Congress Street, Portland, ME, 207.828.9944
Top of the East – 157 High Street, Portland, ME, 207.775.5411

A Delicious Dinner at A&B Burgers

This week as I was scrolling Facebook I saw a post from Salem Food Digest which stated that A&B Burgers was going to be moving from their Salem  location to a new location in Beverly. I think this had been known around these parts for a bit, but having only recently moved back, it was news to me. Now, Beverly is not far at all but Nick and I take pride in the fact that we can walk to pretty much any restaurant in Salem that our heart desires. I wanted to try out A&B, which I’d heard great things about, before the days when (GASP) we actually have to get in our car and drive to it. And I must say, I’m glad we did!

I didn’t take too many pictures because I figured that since they are moving locations in only a few days, it wouldn’t do any good to show the atmosphere of the former space. The original location of A&B Burgers, where it stands until August 30th, is in the lower part of the old Salem Jail. This was the first time I’d ever been in this historic (and formerly, well still a little creepy) site since it had been renovated into condos and restaurant property. I liked the atmosphere – exposed brick and black furnishings, interesting photos on the wall …a modern space with a hint of history. There was also a lovely patio that seemed quite busy, so we ate at the bar which offered a view of a big TV. It’s awesome that I can now say I’ve been in the former jail at least once, but I’m excited to see what the Beverly location will look like, if it will keep the same vibe at all.

Now, for what you’re waiting for, the food and drinks! The menu has a pretty unique selection of bottled and draft beers – Nick decided to go with the Newburyport Pale Ale (he’s become a huge fan since moving to the North Shore) and I chose one that I’d never tried before but sounded so deliciously tempting, the Abita Strawberry Harvest Lager. Yes, I am an unashamed fruity beer lover, and I was very pleased with this summery version.

strawberry beer

That is, until the person next to me at the bar ordered an adult milkshake that looked absolutely to die (or, I guess, go to jail) for and then I was incredibly jealous! I wish I had taken a picture of the milkshake list because there are some really creative concoctions on there that I will certainly be back to try in Beverly. If neither beer nor adult milkshakes suit your fancy, there are some sure-to-satisfy cocktails on the menu as well.

It was a given that we wanted to try the burgers for our meal. There were many mouthwatering kinds, such as the Hangover Burger (American cheese, bacon, and a fried egg), Portobello Peach Burger (Portobello cap, grilled peaches, blue cheese, fig spread and arugula), Black Bean & Pumpkin Burger for vegetarians (house-made pumpkin and black bean patty with arugula and A&B’s house-made honey zest), and many more. I tried to convince Nick to order the Nick’s BBQ Burger, but unfortunately he had eaten a barbecue chicken sandwich for lunch.

We really couldn’t make a decision, and chose to just order from the “Build Your Own Burger” section to solve the dilemma. There are three types of patties you can choose from: beef, chicken or turkey. For us it was beef – it’s what’s for dinner! (Remember that ad? No? I tried.) I got a single patty and added avocado slices, tomato, arugula and cheddar cheese. Nick ordered a double patty with American cheese and a couple of other toppings (sorry, I can’t remember). We also ordered a side of the sea salt fries, although I’d definitely  been eyeing the truffle fries with parmesan and bacon..mmm…we have been trying to stay SOMEWHAT healthy though. (Meaning, I suppose we should hold off on throwing bacon into this mix for now).

I could eat another one right this instant!

I could eat another one right this instant!

When the burgers came out they were stacked high just like I like them, with a side of what I believe were homemade chips. Our sea salt fries came in a pail and were the perfect size to share with each other. I actually don’t remember the last time I had  a restaurant burger but this A&B burger had me wondering why the heck I had stayed away from them for so long . It was cooked exactly on point, a juicy patty mixed with my favorite toppings, and I regretted ordering the single! I devoured this thing. The photo doesn’t do it justice at all (or any image I want to capture  for that matter – the Galaxy s5 is what nightmares are made of and I’m mad I switched from the iPhone last year). Just know that these burgers are the real deal.

Another highlight of our time at A&B Burgers was the bartender, Mandy I believe. She was so personable and helpful, and we chatted with her the entire time we were there. The other staff members also seemed very friendly and kind. A great staff plays such a huge role in keeping a restaurant going and A&B certainly seems to have that down pat. All in all, for delicious food, drinks, and outstanding service, get yourself over to the  new A&B Burgers location in Beverly (Bell Market on Cabot St.) or stop by the Salem one before the move on August 30th!

An Outstanding Lunch at Sea Level Oyster Bar

outside restaurant

The other weekend, Nick and I were finally able to experience Salem’s newest and very rave-reviewed restaurant, Sea Level Oyster Bar. I had been seeing so many social media posts from friends and other businesses in the Salem area featuring their amazing drinks and meals from Sea Level, and I could not wait to try it out. It certainly lived up to all the hype!

Customers use this handy paper to order their oysters.

We went on Memorial Day, so it was busy as expected but there was plenty of room because there is an upstairs and a downstairs. We chose to sit downstairs and were led to a table by a window overlooking the beautiful Derby Wharf and the majestic historic ship, The Friendship. Although our area wasn’t directly open to the outdoors, the upstairs of the restaurant and certain areas of the downstairs are, and the whole space was very open and inviting. I wish I’d gotten more interior shots, but I was so focused on the mouthwatering food surrounding me as you will see…

Even on cloudy days, the view is pretty.

The view is pretty even on cloudy days.

Our table was covered by a large white paper cloth, and our waitress wrote her name on it when she introduced herself which I thought was a great idea. Nick started with a bowl of the New England Clam Chowder and he was an instant fan, saying it was some of the best chowder he ever had. When he got up from the table for a minute, he even told me to make sure the last bites left in the bowl weren’t taken away by the waitress!

I started out with a drink recommended to me by Joe Keefe, the General Manager of Sea Level Oyster Bar. The drink is called the Strawberry and Basil Shrub, and it was honestly one of the most unique tasting drinks I have ever had – I loved it! I wasn’t sure how I was going to like the basil aspect, but it really added a refreshing and tastebud-enticing flavor to the cocktail. This drink is definitely a must on a hot summer day while you relax overlooking the great views offered at Sea Level.

sealevel

Sea Level Oyster Bar offers many more options than seafood for those like me who are allergic to shellfish. For my meal, I ordered the Grilled Cheese, but this was no ordinary Grilled Cheese. This version came with Red Dragon and cheddar cheese, ale mustard, apples, and bacon on grilled Texas toast. The texture of the apples, bacon, and cheese were a wonderful combination. The ale mustard really took the sandwich to another level. I’m not even a mustard gal, but I would like to purchase a bottle of this stuff!

A much more grown-up grilled cheese, with a side of house made chips!

A much more grown-up grilled cheese, with a side of house made chips!

Nick ordered the So Cal Chicken Sandwich, which features grilled chicken, bacon, cheddar, avocado, lettuce, and tomato on grilled Texas toast. He was very satisfied with his choice, and I had a bite as well. You can never go wrong with grilled chicken, avocado and bacon!

Because we wanted the full experience, we decided to take a look at the dessert menu. In an act I’d never seen at a restaurant before, the waitress came over and stamped the dessert menu onto our paper tablecloth. What a unique idea!

We chose the Salted Caramel Cookie Pie with vanilla ice cream on top – so decadent, so delicious. A group at the table near us even ordered the same dessert because they looked over and saw us eating ours in delight. Salty and sweet is one of my favorite flavor combos.

At the end of our meal, our bellies were more than full and our spirits were up. Eating food clearly made with care and detail and having the tastiest of drinks while overlooking the gorgeous views of Salem, Massachusetts is an experience I highly recommend. Sea Level Oyster Bar absolutely deserves all the praise it has been getting since its opening. Here’s to many more successful years of business!

Featured: 
Sea Level Oyster Bar – 94 Wharf Street, Salem, MA, 978.741.0555

Painting “Winter in Boston” at Urban Art Bar

If you’ve read back to earlier posts on New England State of Mind, you may remember that over the summer I wrote about a paint night at Muse Paintbar in Manchester, NH, the first I’d ever done. Since then, Nick had been asking for us to have a paint night together. For one of his Christmas gifts, I found a deal on Groupon for a paint class for two at the Urban Art Bar in South Boston.

Nick, ready to get started on his painting!

Nick, ready to get started on his painting!

We looked online at the Urban Art Bar class calendar, chose the “Winter in Boston” painting as our favorite and signed up for that date. Walking in to Urban Art Bar on the night we were to create our masterpieces was instantly welcoming and relaxing. The space was open and nicely lit with various artwork decorating the walls, both on display and for sale.

Paintings available to recreate in the classes line a wall.

Paintings available to recreate in the classes line a wall.

A bartender was behind the counter next to the entrance mixing up, pouring and popping open drinks which included a variety of cocktails, wines and beers. There was a food menu with yummy appetizers to munch on, but we had eaten beforehand. The music playing certainly got everyone ready for fun, as it ranged from golden oldies to disco hits, upbeat 80s tunes to today’s top 40.

A view of the space from my seat.

A view of the space from my seat.

After hanging up our coats, putting on our aprons and securing a couple of seats near where the instructor would be guiding us, I headed up to the bar to get some drinks. Nick started with a Coors Light and I decided to go for the Shipyard GingerbreadHead Ale. I had been trying to order that beer since Christmas time, and other bars had always been sold out! I was glad I was able to try it, albeit after the holiday season.

I'm glad I was able to final

I’m glad I was able to final

While we were some of the first to arrive, the space filled up quickly. The artist teaching the class, Roscoe, was outgoing and humorous and got us right into the spirit of painting. He taught us which brushes to use, which colors to mix, and to be unafraid to really move the brush around the canvas. Best of all, he made it very clear that these paintings did not have to be carbon copies of the original and we could add our own unique touches.

In the process of painting "WInter in Boston"!

In the process of painting “Winter in Boston”!

I’m not very self-confident when it comes to making art with my hands so I mainly stuck to the original painting. However, I did make it my own by using a different brush and painting style for the trees, and skipping ahead to other parts of the painting when I didn’t feel like working on the pieces the class was working on in the moment. I also painted brickwork on the lamp post section of the painting, to cover up the imperfections I had made while attempting to recreate the 3D effect.

In this step, I added the trees and buildings.

In this step, I added the trees and buildings.

There were smiles all around and I could tell Nick was having a great time on his first (and much requested) paint class. While there were a few people who decided to follow Roscoe’s okay on being different, Nick decided to be very different with his, adding an ice rink, UFO and large sun with a face to his painting…quite whimsical, I must say!

Our final paintings! Mine is on tops, and Nick's, well, unique take on bottom!

Our final paintings! Mine is on tops, and Nick’s, well, unique take on bottom!

All in all, we had a blast at Urban Art Bar, and it was the perfect activity for a Friday date night. The class lasted from 7:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. which was a great length of time to have a few drinks and complete the painting without feeling rushed. Classes are offered at various times on weekends and during some weekdays. Check out the Urban Art Bar calendar, and book your paint class today!

Featured:
The Urban Art Bar – 709 East Broadway, South Boston, MA, 617.596.0553 

 

 

No Place Like Boston for the Holidays

We are now into the second week of December, and naturally the holidays are on my brain! From purchasing the perfect Christmas presents, discovering mouthwatering recipes to bring to parties and admiring all the glitzy, glamorous clothing on display, thoughts of revelry and cheer are all-consuming. Last weekend was my real official kickoff to the season as I shopped Small Business Saturday for gifts, and this past weekend the holiday spirit continued.

Old City Hall is looking very festive these days!

Old City Hall is looking very festive these days!

Friday and Saturday, Nick and I visited a couple bars for drinks and dinner, Barney Fanning’s downtown and The Draft in Allston. Bars around the city were decorated in a festive fashion and I couldn’t escape all the warm, cozy vibes of Christmas lights, trees and holiday tunes…not that I would want to escape. Singing along to “Jingle Bell Rock” while watching the Bruins game in the company of others who are in the holiday spirit…what’s a better winter night consist of?

Prior to going out, we wanted to enjoy some downtime at home, but also get a bit more jazzed up about the weekend than we were feeling from the gloomy weather outside. I knew just how to get the party started – break out the LIQS! All week my excitement had been building to wait for the perfect time to try these tasty little shots of fun. If you haven’t heard yet, LIQS are a new concept that combines the size and portability of a shot with the flavor of a cocktail made with the highest quality liquor…just right for some pre-bar fun or enhancing a party. Not to mention, they’re low-calorie, so that’s one thing you don’t have to feel guilty about consuming during the season of over-consumption.

LIQS_Holiday_2014_39

LIQS – the perfect accompaniment to holiday fun

I’ve got a long list of friends who I will be gifting LIQS to. They come in single-flavor 3-packs, so think ideal stocking stuffer or a Secret Santa or Yankee Swap present! Find them at over 100 liquor stores around Massachusetts – not a Mass resident? Not a problem. You can buy LIQS through their website as well. I’ll tell you another idea that I know I’m going to be doing with these: On New Year’s Eve, instead of PDA or ringing a measly little noisemaker when the countdown hits zero, why doesn’t everyone at the party throw back a LIQS shot? You can thank me later.

LIQS

As you know, Sunday is a Funday and I didn’t want mine to be any exception. I met up with my friend Shiloh and we headed downtown for some holiday shopping and Christmas display perusing. As soon as we got off the T, we were instantly hit with two things: a cold blast of air and the craving for warm hot chocolate. The two seem to go hand in hand.

As we walked, we passed an intriguing storefront and ventured into Caffè Nero on Washington Street in Downtown Crossing. This was one of the most aesthetically appealing cafes I have come across in the area. The song lyric “these are a few of my favorite things” played in my head as I took in many things I love; caffeinated beverages, mouthwatering pastries, walls covered with classic books library-style and Christmas decor strung up everywhere.

caffenero

The classic beauty of Caffe Nero

Even though it was a large space, the shop was jam-packed with college students doing homework on laptops (I don’t miss those days), and we unfortunately couldn’t find a seat to enjoy our hot chocolate and chocolate chip cookies – but alas, you can’t always get what you want. The treats were good enough that we enjoyed them even out in the chill!

Our next stop was the Downtown Holiday Market. On Washington Street, just look for the old Tello’s store space and that’s where you’ll find it! Inside we were surrounded by a bevy of local artisans and vendors with tables displaying unique items of all kinds. On this day, the market featured beautiful, handcrafted jewelry, intricate glass ornaments and trinkets, scarves, a delicious variety of caramels, local honey, amazingly built wooden puzzle boxes, homemade granola and nuts and a variety of artisinal hot sauces.

I oo’d and ahh’d over the Tico Art puzzle boxes, which Shiloh and I literally couldn’t stop playing with. Designed to look like a fun creature or object, for example, an owl or baseball, each box features a “key” which you must find and pull out which unlocks the other pieces of the box until you can open it, revealing a little storage space.

puzzleboxes

Tico Art puzzle boxes are fun to look at and fun to play with!

At the next table, we taste-tested the sweet and savory flavors of granola and honey pecans from Roasted Granola Co. I wasn’t a huge pecan fan before, but these converted me!

roastednuts

I would have kept taste-testing but Shiloh wanted to move along to the Alex’s Ugly Sauce table. She tried a few flavors of sauces recommended by the very knowledgeable woman running the table. While she didn’t try out the kind she ended up purchasing (far too hot for her liking), she purchased it for her boyfriend, who claims that no sauce is spicy enough for him. We’ll see how he feels about ghost peppers!

uglysauce

I’ll refrain from listing the rest of the items I purchased because I know the people who will be getting them as gifts are going to be reading – it’s very hard as a blogger to keep these things a secret! Just know that you will find something for everyone on your list at the 2014 Downtown Holiday Market! Check it out any day of the week, 11am-7pm Saturday through Monday and 11am-5pm on Sunday, until January 10th. For those of you with kids, or hey, even if you’re just a fan of the big guy, take a free photo (bring a camera) with Santa from noon-2pm weekdays or 3-4pm weekends. Personally, I’m sad that I missed my photo opportunity with jolly old St. Nick!

After getting our local product fix at the market, we came across So Good Jewelry which was a perfect ending to our Sunday fun. In college, Shiloh had actually introduced me to the other location of So Good Jewelry on Newbury Street where wall after wall was lined with every kind of affordable “costume” jewelry imaginable. I don’t know about you, but costume jewelry is what fits my budget, and at So Good Jewelry you can find necklaces, earrings, bracelets and rings to match any outfit in your closet. I have a thing for statement necklaces right now and the store was filled with them. I purchased one, along with two pairs of earrings and a couple of Christmas presents for some of the ladies on my list.

My new purchases from So Good Jewelry. I can't wait to wear!

My new purchases from So Good Jewelry. I can’t wait to wear!

After spending what seemed like an eternity spent perusing the jewelry, it was time to call it a day. There was Christmas decorating to do at home! However, my holiday activities are far from over. Next week I’ll be back at it again, and I’m proud to say that so far I have been making good on my promise to purchase all my Christmas presents local this year!

Places Mentioned (in order):

Barney Fanning’s – 99 Broad Street, Boston, MA 02110
The Draft Bar and Grille – 34 Harvard Avenue, Allston, MA 02134
Caffè Nero – 560 Washington Street (Downtown Crossing), Boston, MA 02111
Downtown Holiday Market – 459 Washington Street (Downtown Crossing, in the old Tello’s space), Boston, MA 02111
So Good Jewelry – 443 Washington Street (also located at 349 Newbury Street), Boston, MA 02111

*Disclosure: LIQS samples were provided by LIQS. All opinions expressed here are my own.

Campfire Cocktails

campfirecocktails

Okay, so this post is going to be off-topic from the norm of New England State of Mind, but I loved doing this little “project” on Saturday and wanted to share! While you may have the Monday blues, this post will get you looking forward to the next weekend. Or you could treat yourself on Hump Day. Or heck, do this when you get home today!

Saturday was pretty low-key for me. The colder weather sometimes turns me into a hermit if I let it (which I don’t for the most part, but on occasion I give in). While Nick was in Foxwoods, I visited my mother and spent a good portion of the time reading old issues of magazines. As I was flipping through the October Cosmo, a big picture of a milk chocolate-y looking drink caught my eye. The drink was called a “Campfire Cocktail” and the recipe for one called for:

  • 1 oz. Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Honey Whiskey
  • 1 oz. Kahlua
  • 2 oz. half and half
  • Glass with ice cubes

My mom is also a fan of sweet mixed drinks, so I showed her. At first, she thought she didn’t have any Jack Daniel’s Honey until we realized her fiance had bought a brand  new bottle the week before. Um, this is happening NOW, we thought. Here in New England, camping trips and campfires are a huge summertime tradition for many friends and families. The summer weather may be over, but that didn’t mean we couldn’t take the taste s’mores indoors.

The drink was rimmed with melted chocolate and graham crackers, which are always in stock at my mom’s house. Our first step was to melt some large chocolate chips into a bowl and fill a ziplock bag with graham crackers, using a rolling pin to crush them. We then put the graham crackers into a pie pan.

Step 2 Drinks

Instead of the plain half-glasses that were used in the magazine, we decided to use cute martini glasses to make our version prettier. First, I took a glass and placed it upside down in the melted chocolate and twirled the stem between my fingers to make sure I had a good base. Then, for more chocolate and maximum graham-grabbing potential, I tipped the glass slightly on its side and twirled it, covering the sides of the rim with chocolate as well.

Once that was done, I used the same side twirling motion with the glass in the pie plate of graham crackers. I finished up by placing the glass upside down to get a slight graham cover on the top of the rim. Then I added ice cubes in preparation for the actual drink to be added. Voila!

Step 1 Drinks

My mom is always in action, even when she sees a picture being taken!

I completed the rest of the glass decoration while my mom mixed the drinks in a large reusable water bottle. She quadrupled the recipe, as we were making four drinks in total. After shaking it all up, she poured the mix into each glass.

Step 3 Drinks

I felt that the original recipe for the drink was missing something to make it officially campfire style…marshmallows! So, I cut up wooden skewers, and added mini marshmallows as a replica of how we use large sticks with big marshmallows on the end to roast for s’mores.

Final Drinks

I could barely stand to wait for a taste test, but wanted to take some obligatory pictures for Instagram of course! The drinks were beautifully presented if I do say so myself, and tasted wonderful as well! They were a decadent pick-me-up and the perfect activity for a weekend night in.

Recipe found in October 2014 issue of Cosmopolitan Magazine