Thursday, June 21, 2012

The Street & The Company: Portland's Street & Co.

When Matt came to interview for his job in Portland back in March of 2011, the first place he ate was Street & Co.  It was the first place he had Lobster in Maine, the first place he had raw bar in Maine, and the place where he first fell in love with Maine oysters.  It was also the first place he insisted on taking me when we had our first date night in Portland.  Because I'd never seen or heard of the place, I wasn't sure why he was so adamant, but I went.  And since then it's probably the restaurant we've eaten at most frequently in Portland.  We take all our visitors to it, and while there was a brief period when I claimed to be "sick of it" - a claim I would now consider blasphemy coming from another - I was soon back again, scarfing down oysters, eating melted butter and garlic with a spoon, being welcomed by our regular waitress, and harassing the bus boy who looks like The Little Prince.

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View onto Wharf Street

The Street

There is a small - almost invisible - little street (you could almost call it an alley way) in the Old Port of Portland that is not to be missed. It is home to some of the most quaint and quintessentially-Portland stops: Beals Ice Cream shop (where Roman scarfed down his 2nd birthday brownie sundae), the back side of Gritty's pub (a local brewery and home of the 100-beer-mug club), two wonderful Italian restaurants (Vignola and Cinque Terre), and, among others, our favorite fine-dining seafood stop: Street & Co. This street offers an uninterrupted, fully-pedestrian cobble-stone path down the center of the Old Port, away from the traffic of Commercial Street and Fore Street. In the day it smells the way a 19th C working port might have smelled - briny and damp but with infinite red-brick character. At night it is transformed by the dim yellow lights of the old fashioned lantern posts and the clippity-clopping of shoes on the misty cobblestones. I could not imagine a more fitting setting for our final date-night meal in Portland than on Wharf Street.

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The Company

So, it only took us 14 months and a near dozen meals to figure out how to eat right at Street & Co. We've tried almost everything on the menu (which doesn't vary wildly given its self-proclaimed mission of serving "very fresh seafood" and the predictability of what that will mean in Maine - lobster, Sole, Bluefish, oysters, the occasional John dory). But that's not a bad thing at all because I don't think I'd ever get sick of eating their grilled lobster and linguine or their Sole Francais. But that's not what we had on our last visit.

What we finally realized a week ago is that despite the beautiful dining room - cozy and warm with a view into the open kitchen (think Fore Street but in miniature) - and despite the aesthetically perfect waiting area with its exposed beams, quaint windows and views Wharf Street- what we really love to do is eat at the bar. The glazed concrete bar where the scrupulously clean oysters - the real stars of the show - are simply and appealingly arranged before you. Where you can jealously watch a 16 year old boy wearing a mesh glove shuck oyster after oyster with enviable dexterity late into the evening. Where the small but varied collection of wines is kept in amazing glass-faced, antique wooden shelves And where conversation among patrons can be as private or convivial as you wish.

In fact, I don't have a single bad word to say about my Calamari Puttanesca, Matt's clams with caramelized onions and chorizo, our dozen oysters (6 winterpoint, 6 Norumbega - both from Damariscotta, I believe), or that freaking champagne vinegar mignonette they make - but one of the things I enjoyed most about our visit was chatting with the waitstaff and Harry McEvoy, the hilarious bartender who told us about how he "ebayed [him]self," his history with knife-throwing, kept the crazy-good Standard Baking Co. bread coming, and got me hooked on this Vinho Verde. We also managed to strike up a conversation about Maine and the beauty of doggy bags with an inquisitive and appreciative Berliner on his way to an auction in Fairfield who looked truly disturbed by having to use his hands to eat lobster. That was fun to watch. :)

I left the restaurant feeling satisfied that I'd had a taste of the best Portland had to offer - in scenery, ambiance, comradery, and food. And that makes giving up familiarity, the sea, and all the fruits that go with both of those a much easier pill - nay, oyster - to swallow.

With mignonette, of course. 

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33 Wharf Street
Portland, ME 04101

Tel: (207) 775-0887

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Saturday, June 16, 2012

The Old House by the Lindens: Goodbye to Portland, Maine

Seaweed in Boothbay Harbor, ME

*  *  *
The old house by the lindens
  Stood silent in the shade,
And on the gravelled pathway
  The light and shadow played... 
...The birds sang in the branches,
  With sweet, familiar tone;
But the voices of the children
  Will be heard in dreams alone!

And the boy that walked beside me,

  He could not understand
Why closer in mine, ah! closer,
  I pressed his warm, soft hand!

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, from "The Open Window"
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Has it been over a year already since we left Abu Dhabi, since we arrived into Maine?  At this time last year were we just preparing to leave the Eastern Promenade and move into our dear "house by the lindens"?  Is it really my last Saturday, my last weekend here?

Yes - it's all so.  And next Thursday we load up the Tahoe, hand over the keys to the green house on Linden Street and start on our cross-country trip to the Mile High City.  We've known about this move to Denver almost since we moved to Portland, but that doesn't make leaving the place we've called home for 14 months any easier on anyone.  There's a lot we've come to love about Portland - friends, favorite spots, memorable restaurants, and new-old-habits that we'll have to re-make in our new city.  And while we're all very excited for the move to Colorado - desperately excited for the place we hope we'll stay permanently! - I can't help but feel a little nostalgic about the memories we've made in Maine: the good, the bad, the salty.

There's a lot I could say on the subject, but instead, here's another pictorial list of our favorite and most-to-be-missed impressions from our year + in the land of lighthouses and lobsters.
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An "Open Window" into Our Year in Maine
very Longfellow, I know :)

After leaving Maine we will sorely miss...

10.  ...sunsets on the Eastern Promenade...
Heck, sunrises, mornings, noons and nights too...
Sunset on the Eastern Promenade
Munjoy Hill, Portland ME

9.  ...that amazing view of Portland you get while walking on Back Cove trail...
It's pretty in the sun, rain, snow, and mysteriously striking in the fog...
That View from Back Cove

8.  ...the beautiful harshness of the Maine winters...
Harris Farms
Dayton, ME

7. ...the best fried whole-bellied clams around
(served with homemade tartar and cocktail sauces, of course)...
Fried Clam Plate at The Lobster Shack
Two Lights, ME

6. ...Maine's incredible oysters - raw & fresher than you can imagine - with mignonette...

Our favorite place for fresh oysters in Portland is:
Street & Co on Wharf Street

5. ...the abundant, verdant forests; trees, trees everywhere...

Deering Oaks Park
Portland, ME

4.  ...walking in the Old Port on a beautiful day...
Custom House Street
Old Port, Portland, ME

3. ...the beach, and beautiful proximity to that healing salty smell...

Pine Point Beach, Scarborough ME

2. ...dipping our feet and watching seaweed in the frigid water off our favorite dock...
The Dock on the Eastern Promenade
Portland, ME

1. ...our green house by the lindens, and all the memories it holds...

Linden Street
Portland, ME

PS: For those of you who noticed the small tweaks in appearance, my new peony blog title picture is also a shout-out to Portland; it was taken on my front porch and the flowers were picked from our wonderful garden.

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Tuesday, June 5, 2012

My Sartorial Forays & Roman's Super-Cape!

Super-Roman and his home-sewn cape.
When I bought my sewing machine last summer, I embarked on a long and perpetually unfinished journey through the many-splendid worlds of sewing and DIY projects.  Looking back, I've been surprisingly prolific.  I say 'surprisingly' because I'm fairly sure that Matt believed I would never make a single thing once I actually bought a sewing machine.  Part of it is that I have an awesome, dedicated craft space in my house.  Another part is that I discovered how easy it is to make everything and anything, including your own patterns, once I actually just gave it a shot.  What have I made?  Well...  

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Brenda's Sartorial Forays 
of the last year

Roman's blanket!

2. Then I made (no joke) 6 or 7 baby / kid blankets out of fleece, embellished with felt names (see above) and funny figures: several with elephants for my friend Frances' Ella (pictured above), for my friend Gabby's little Isaac, and two for my friend Sandra's twins Sam & Zoe. Oh and I also made one with a scooting ladybug for my friend Monica's new little Anna.  Then I made a twin-size one with a butterfly for Ava and another twin-size one - Roman's - with a giant blast of color and his name in the middle.  They were fun and by the end I was really good at it. :)

3. I made Roman and Ava both a pair of pants from this awesome tutorial, patches on the knees and all. 

4. I've made three different paintbrush holder rolls, inspired by this tutorial.  One for me, one for my mother-in-law and one for my sister's birthday (surprise Carla :D).  I think Carla's definitely turned out best because it was my third and therefore had the advantage of me knowing what my mistakes had been, but I also REALLY love mine because it is made of a fantasmagoric coral-colored Geisha cotton fabric that I think I'll never, ever get sick of.

5. A couple of months back I also finally made the project that started it all (here's the tutorial), the reason I bought my sewing machine: a super-hero cape for Roman.  I labored for quite a while on the colors to choose and the superhero emblem to use, partly because Roman himself is so conflicted on the superheroes he likes.  He thinks Spiderman is mean (probably because he watches the 1950s episodes on Netflix in which he is kind of mean).  He doesn't know who Superman is.  And he's a little unsure about Batman, though generally that tends to be his favorite.  Here lately he was given a Captain America doll, but, like his father, seems to consider him a bit of a wuss
given his lack of Iron Man-esque super powers.  All this was too much input for me and in the end I decided to make it a Super-Roman cape.  The "R" in all its glory centered on the back.  And despite the fact that it's a double-sided, reversible cape, I left the inside blank and just made it a kick-ass bright, neon green that looks slightly distressed.  Just thought that would be cool to have :)

 Roman is not SUPER into dress-up yet (despite my desperate wish that he was), but I was pleasantly surprised to find that a cape had great appeal to him.  He LOVES running in it.  He likes how it flies behind him and makes pretending to fly all the more credible somehow.  He didn't take it off for days.  He ate in it, wanted to sleep in it, insisted on wearing it to school, and even though he hasn't worn it for a while, I know he still loves it.  You should have heard him bragging about it and how "[his] mommy made it for [him.]"  It kind of melted my heart. :) 

It was a great choice for a simple sewing project.  And I made it big enough that I know he won't outgrow it for several years.  Score.

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So there you have it: my first year's adventures in sewing and the bountiful fruits of my labor. It's really a shame I didn't take pictures of most of this stuff.  Maybe I'll request pics of the sewings in use with the kiddos and update this blog.  Yes, I think I will. :)  And here they come...
Twins Zoe & Sam enjoy their blankets in the garden!
Baby Ella and her "Ella"-phant blanket.

My Ava and her Butterfly "car" blanket -
she uses it every day on her way to and from school :)

Little Isaac looking mighty pleased
with his elephant blanket.

Don't let his size fool you.

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