The Fourth of July is always highly anticipated in my house because it means several exciting things:
- No work!
- A couple days reveling in all of summer’s glory with friends.
- Good beer.
- Great food.
These 4 things, besides my family, are the small things in life I live for. I wake up excitedly anticipating all of the above just about everyday of my life.
We had the no work part covered and the reveling began on Friday. Chris and I are still trying to meet friends in Portland, which is weird for both of us because we had such a close group of friends in Fairbanks. It’s tough meeting people when you’re an adult—it’s almost like you’re in the dating game again, but instead of a partner, you’re trying to find friend-partners, which I believe are equally as important as life partners. It takes a lot of guts to ask someone out for drinks or lunch, regardless of who it is! So, instead of hanging with friends on the 4th, we took advantage of the perfect opportunity for a killer date day, the only stipulation being that the activities take place in the lovely city we live in.
We live in the “country,” more like the suburbs of Portland and lucky for us, the two friends we have made in ME, asked us to dog/housesit for the weekend and their place is in the heart (well, an arm) of the city itself. Every destination was walkable and super convenient, certainly owning up to its name “America’s most walkable cities.”
We started with a trip to the Deering Oaks Farmer’s Market and drooled, sampled, and pined over all the delicious seasonals the farmers had laid out on their tables. I told Chris, if I could sum up my general sense of taste/style in one snapshot, it would be the Portland Farmers Market with its wooden crates and tables with iron accents, ample beautifully colored produce, dried and fresh flowers in delicate little jars, fresh cheeses wrapped in cheese cloth, and homemade pickles in huge apothecary jars.
After the Farmer’s Market, we took a run around the Eastern Promenade and Back Cove. The day was a little dreary but it didn’t dampen our plans. We ended our run at Urban Farm Fermentory, and sampled an array of ciders and kombucha. Holy shit, you guys. Have you ever had kombucha?!
The product that they have at this joint is so f-ing delicious. Let’s start with the pleasant: it’s a carbonated, sweet tea beverage often flavored with natural ingredients (berries, apples, ginger). The carbonation is a result of batch fermentation with, maybe not so pleasant to some, SCOBY—symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast (don’t google it because when you see what it looks like before tasting the beverage, you’ll run away screaming and never trust me again). A glass is packed with probiotics and has a very slight kick of alcohol to it, thanks to the fermentation process.
This particular brewery had about 8 types of “booch” on tap, my favorite being sweet fern (a native plant to Maine that has a sweet-spicy taste with a note of mustardy). There was also mead and several types of super dry hard ciders.
After getting out kombucha fill, we headed to Rosemont Market and got some house made charcuterie and bread, a bottle of wine, and some quarter-sized farm fresh strawberries, and headed back to our temporary abode and had an afternoon snack on the veranda. My favorite of this spread was a lavender-honey goat cheese we bought at the Farmer’s Market. It’s herbaceous and sweet notes, combined with the super creamy, tart chevre beat most I’ve ever tasted.
Then the barhopping started. We made our way to the East End of Portland to Eventide Oyster Bar, pretty well-known for its raw bar selections. It’s quite impressive, I must say. The juncture where the L shaped bar meets facing outward, there’s a metal box filled with ice and nested in each ice pocket is a variety of oysters. They come in all shapes , sizes, and colors. We didn’t partake in the oyster shucking ourselves because we had just eaten a ton AND I can never eat an oyster again after a VERY fun night drinking French 75s at a New Year’s Party where I shucked and ate my fair share of these mullosks (followed by a not-at-all-fun morning where I was the one being shucked. Oy).
From Eventide, we hopped right next door to The Honey Paw, an Asian-fusion restaurant owned by the same folks as Eventide. We parked ourselves at the bar and started tossing back wine and high-octane beer, and we made friends quickly with the super nice bartender. We talked about hiking and Alaska and it was a great experience overall. We sampled their Warm Beef Jerky special (OMG. I die just thinking about how amazing it was), the pub mix (made with fried nori, honey roasted peanuts, and homemade funyons. You heard me right. I said homemade FUNYONS!), and a honey soft serve ice cream with a chocolate drizzle and a super crispy salted-honey toffee on top. More on Honey Paw later because I’m planning to do a full-fledged review of the place when we eat an entire meal there…which may be this week because their small bites were so good.
After our bar hop, we stumbled up the hill the Eastern Promenade to be serenaded by the Portland Symphony, along with 50-60 THOUSAND other people, both on land and on water. Right around 9:40, the fireworks started right over Casco Bay and right over us! They were the brightest, most intense fireworks I have ever seen. Everyone looked up in wonder and there were collective ooohs and aaaahs. I should add that to my list of things I live for, too. Community coming together and sharing spaces and moments as a whole. It gives me all the good feels!
We walked back to our temporary abode, wound down for the night with some old Tom Waits, Bob Dylan, and The Band LPs and drifted off in the-best-4th-of-July-ever sleep. It was good. So good.
In celebration of summer, cookouts, and family/friend time, I’m posting a baked bean recipe I made several weeks ago. I used sweet potatoes as the primary sweetener–the idea came to me in the grocery story checkout line when I was staring at the nutritional facts of a can of baked beans. Holy sugar!! I dropped the a can and did a you turn for more wholesome, less sweet ingredients. They turned out to be some of the best homemade baked beans I’ve ever made. I love when that happens!
Disclaimer: I eat all the food I post on my blog. There’s no hairspray, nail polish, cotton balls, or fake anything that goes into the food. Because of that and because of the nature of baked beans, this dish is not particularly pretty. So, I threw in a picture of a pretty pie so you’ll come back to visit!
- 3 sweet potatoes
- 6 slices of thick-cut bacon, cut in ¼ inch strips
- 1 pound dried navy beans, soaked overnight (or 4 cans of small white beans, drained with bean liquid reserved)
- 1 large white onion, finely diced
- 1 bell pepper, finely diced
- 5 garlic cloves, minced
- 2 teaspoons dried mustard
- ¼ teaspoon cayenne
- 4 tablespoons tomato paste
- 2 tablespoons brown sugar, packed
- ½ cup 100% maple syrup
- 1 can of beer
- 2 cups chicken stock
- If using dried beans, soak overnight. When ready to cook, drain water. Place beans in a pot and cover with water by 2 inches. Add a healthy pinch of salt and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce to simmer and let beans cook until tender, about 45 minutes. Once cooked, drained and reserve some of the bean liquid. If using canned beans (see ingredient note), drain and beans in a large sieve, reserving bean liquid.
- To bake sweet potatoes, preheat oven to 400 degrees. Cut sweet potatoes in half lengthwise. Rub bottoms and skins generously with olive oil. Place flesh side down on a foil lined baking sheet. Roast for 30 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool.
- Reduce oven to 300 degrees.
- Over medium heat, add bacon to a large, heavy-bottom, oven-proof dutch oven, Cook until fat just starts to render, about 3 minutes.
- Add onion and green pepper stirring to coat veggies with bacon fat. Cook stirring occasionally until onions and pepper is soft, about 5 minutes.
- Add garlic, dry mustard, tomato paste, brown sugar, and a pinch of salt. Stir to coat veggies and bacon until caramelized slightly, about 30 seconds.
- Add drained cooked beans to the dutch oven. Stir.
- Add beer and stock to the pot and stir, scraping up the brown bits at the bottom of the pot. Scoop out the meat of the potatoes into a blender. Discard skins. Add maple syrup. Blend until pureed. If too thick, add a little bean liquid to blender to make a thick-but-pourable puree.
- Stir sweet potato puree into beans, mixing well. Place the lid on the dutch oven or oven-proof pot and bake covered for 2 hours, stirring halfway through. If the beans look like they're drying out, add some of the bean liquid and stir.