September 27, 2011

The Big E: A New England Institution

Come and hang with the alpacas!
(or the cows, goats, pigs, chickens, llamas, sheep ...)
The Big E is one of those must-do's for any New Englander. Haven’t been? 

My guest blogger this week is the Super Awesome Dr. Christine Buckley - my friend, former coworker, and own personal restaurant advisor (see her wise Paul's Pasta Shop recommendation here). She was so kind as to brave fried Oreos, farm animals, and, well, foot massagers (read on) for some serious investigative reporting, so that she could tell you exactly why you need to make your way there this weekend. Many thanks, Christine! 

The Big E is a New England institution so great that it doesn’t even need a name anymore – just a letter. 

Begun in 1968, the Eastern States Exposition is the official state fair for the six New England states, and touts itself as the sixth largest agricultural fair in the country. Most New Englanders know all about the madness that is the Big E. But for those of you who live in a box, here’s a quick description:

September 26, 2011

Rosemary Bread

Behold: Deliciousness.
Thankfully, the summer weather is still hanging around here in New England, but I know just from looking at the trees in my neighborhood that fall's inevitably on its way.

Some part of my sun-loving self always kinda dies inside when the cool weather kicks in, but once fall hits, I do find that I'm spending a lot more of my time in the kitchen, which seems to offer some level of comfort. And I'm the first to admit that I need some serious comforting once I realize summer's over.

Anyway, do I have any bread fans out there? I'm a huge lover of bread - well, carbs in general, really. And my favorite bread recipe, passed along to me from a friend and fabulous cook, is rosemary bread. It is so.damn.good. It offers the comfort factor of bread, with a kind of unexpected spice from the rosemary. I make it for just about every holiday feast, and often for dinner parties. It's great to bring along - maybe with a bit of honey butter, mmmm - to a potluck, too.

Not only does it take no time whatsoever to make, the ingredients are probably stuff you have on hand. Perhaps the wildest of the ingredients is the actual rosemary, but I'd think that most people have that floating around their spice rack somewhere.

Here's the recipe, courtesy of the lovely and genius Tammi:

Rosemary Bread
1. In a bowl, mix 2 1/2 cups flour, 3/4 cup sugar, 2 teaspoons baking powder, 4 teaspoons dried rosemary, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and the zest from a lemon.
2. In another bowl, mix 2 eggs, 3/4 cup of apple juice, and 1/2 cup of olive oil (extra virgin).
3. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry and mix.
4. Pour into a lightly greased 9x9 square pan and baked at 350 degrees for 45-50 minutes until golden.

Voila. Cut it up and stack it on a plate with some fresh rosemary garnish to make yourself look super fancy. Oh, and if you like nuts (for me, meh), try some chopped up walnuts in there. It's seriously fantastic.

September 18, 2011

Celebrating Garlic and Gooey Goodness

Fresh garlic, grown in Connecticut. Mmmm.
This weekend, I stopped in Mystic, Conn., with friends to explore the 4th Annual Garlic Fest. We wandered around enjoying everything from samples of garlic popcorn (yum!) to garlic sausage, garlic chips, garlic cheese bread, and even garlic fried dough. We pretty much reeked by day's end, so if you're interested in ever checking this event out, you might want to make it a point to invite only very good friends.

Even if you missed this year's garlic event, however, there's plenty of other great stuff to explore in Mystic, like the Seaport and Aquarium. Or, just spend the afternoon doing some window shopping in Olde Mistick Village (where the Garlic Fest was held), which offers lots of cool little boutiques, fun eateries, and a resident population of friendly (though decidedly huge) ducks.

Truth be told, it wasn't really garlic that I was after yesterday. What I was really wanted was to locate what are reportedly the best cupcakes in Connecticut, according to Connecticut Magazine's Best of Connecticut 2011 Guide.

Today's Stefcations Highlights:
  • What You'll Find: Bakery and cheese shop, with phenomenal grilled cheese sandwiches and cupcakes
  • Where You'll Find it: Mystic, Conn.
  • When to Go: Visit Bleu Squid's website for hours.

September 10, 2011

Works of Art, Inside and Out

The ridiculously beautiful Branford House, where you'll
find the Alexey von Schlippe Gallery of Art.
Groton, Conn., a seaside town in southeastern Connecticut, is known by most people around here as the home of Electric Boat, which has built submarines for the U.S. Navy for more than a few decades. Not quite what you might imagine would make for a beautiful or romantic setting. Yet as it turns out, Groton will surprise you. Hidden away on its shores are amazing views of Long Island Sound and a historic mansion that hosts free art shows and even weddings, which must be spectacularly scenic (though probably far from free).

Today's Stefcations Highlights:
  • What You'll Find: A free art show (Keep reading for details on where you can score some fresh pasta - and even deep-fried chocolate chip cookie dough - after the show.)
  • Where You'll Find it: The Branford House, at UConn's Avery Point Campus in Groton, Conn.
  • What It'll Cost: Nada, although you're invited to donate a few dollars.
  • When to Go: Wednesdays through Sundays from noon to 4 p.m. (although you can stroll the campus just about anytime)

September 6, 2011

Taking the Plunge at Brownstone Discovery Park

If you're a Connecticut native like me, you'd likely never imagine that a cool place like Brownstone Discovery Park would be hiding anywhere near this neck of the woods.

Who knew gigantic inflatable
floating toys were this much fun?
This Labor Day weekend, I spent a day with friends and family at Brownstone - located in the very centrally located town of Portland, Conn., on a random backroad by the Connecticut River - and had a total blast.

If you have kids and are looking for an all-family activity - and even if you don't have kids (because I don't), you would be amazed by the fun you'll have here.

Today's Stefcations Highlights:

  • What You'll Find: Adventure water sports galore. Seriously awesome fun for all ages.
  • Where You'll Find it: Brownstone Exploration & Discovery Park, 161 Brownstone Ave., Portland, CT
  • When to Go: Memorial Day Weekend - October. Check their site for specific hours.
  • What It'll Cost: $18 apiece for the daily swimming pass. Or, spend $28 a person for access to all of the adventure sports. I assure you, it's far more fun than you've had in a while.

September 4, 2011

Cavalry Brewing Tour and Tasting

Sadly, Hurricane Irene ruined our long-awaited plans to attend Vermont's annual Mount Snow Brewers Festival this Labor Day weekend.

Happily, however, beer - free, very good beer, mind you - can be found right here in Connecticut, at Cavalry Brewing in Oxford.
Cavalry's Nomad Stout. Serious beer.

For absolutely nothing, you can walk right into this brewery on Fridays or Saturdays (call first, just to be sure they're not out making a delivery) and ask the two brewmasters and their trusty border terrier, aptly named Mash, for an informal, yet informative tour and a tasting.

Not only will you not be disappointed, you'll be shocked to have found such a great outing and such memorable beer without having to pay a dime. Granted, if you loved the beer as much as we did, you'll be more than willing to take your wallet out before you leave and buy a few cases of your favorites to take home.

September 2, 2011

The Power of Pizza

If you've been on the East Coast recently, you may have heard about the hideousness that was Hurricane Irene. The flooding, the destruction of roads, homes, and trees, and the loss of power - in our case, for more than four days. Not a pretty sight.

Pizza, sans oven? = Love.
But fear not. Even with zero electricity, you can still cook up that singularly satisfying food that I'd personally want with me if I were ever to find myself stuck on a desert island: pizza. All you need is a grill and a grocery store nearby with power, where you can stop in for a handful of supplies.

Grilled pizza not only has a really great flavor, it cooks quickly and just plain looks cool, with its extra bubbles and lovely-looking char marks from the grill.

Here's the simplest version:

September 1, 2011

How Laughing Can Help the Homeless

I'm a massive animal lover. I've got three dogs of my own, but give me a couple of acres, and I could easily start my very own dog farm. If - ahem, I mean, when - I win the lotto, you can so count me in as the Crazy Dog Lady.

My super, uber-fabulous retired racing greyhound, Reba, who I
adopted from REGAP in Bethany, Conn., about five years ago.
I know you're not supposed to have favorites,
but I can't help it.
Later this month, Funny Bone Comedy Club & Restaurant in Manchester, Conn., will host a show to help support the Our Companions Domestic Animal Sanctuary, a local nonprofit that's based on the idea that there's "a proper home for nearly every pet." (Bravo to that!) Comedians for this year's show include Josh Gondelman and James Dorsey. (Though I've not seen these guys live, I did go to this event last year and had a great time.)