Will Write for Food

How a love of food and a past gig led to this business story assignment

Fresh, local produce at Monadnock Food Co-op

Fresh, local produce at Monadnock Food Co-op

 

As the City Hall reporter at the New Hampshire Union Leader, I would often write news features about the residents’ various efforts to improve the city, from forming neighborhood watches to opening a farmers market. One of my features was about the Manchester Food Co-Op and their monthly potluck dinners to recruit new members. The group had only a few hundred members then, far from their 1,000 member goal before opening a retail store. I didn’t give that co-op much thought until years later, when I was roaming the aisles of the Monadnock Food Co-Op on a recent visit to New Hampshire’s Monadnock Region. If Keene could open a successful co-op, then Manchester must surely be close. And what other communities are talking about open similar cooperative grocery stores? You’ll find the answer in the story below.

The latest food co-op to open in NH

The latest food co-op to open in NH

A hunger for local food

While it may seem counter to New Hampshire’s “Live Free or Die” mentality, the cooperative business model is becoming a popular way for local communities to provide an alternative to the traditional supermarket.

Over the past five years, there has been a surge of interest in cooperative grocery stores as consumer interest in organic and locally sourced foods has grown.

Since 2009, food co-op stores opened in Littleton and Keene, and the Manchester Food Co-op is currently searching for a downtown location for a new grocery. Great River Co-op in Walpole is raising funds with the hope of opening a store in 2015, and Berlin, Gorham and Brookline have had discussions about launching a co-op in their communities.

To read more, click through to the full story in New Hampshire Business Review.

About Kittery, killed it

IMG_1916 The following post was to be published elsewhere, but did not make the cut. Here’s the piece, aimed at an out-of-town audience.

Getting Out in Kittery

I had been suffering from a bad case of cabin fever, so I suggested to my husband we get a babysitter and do a date night. Not wanting to spend half the evening looking for parking in downtown Portsmouth, we took a quick drive over the Sarah Long Bridge and enjoyed an evening of beer drinking and eating delicious food in Kittery, Maine.

Up until recently, Kittery had been a sleepy town with a tiny downtown – known as the Foreside – that included few things to do at night. But in the past few years, an infusion of young entrepreneurial energy lured Kittery residents back to the Maine side of the bridge for their drinks, dining and entertainment.

Old Memorial Bridge looking from Portsmouth, NH to Kittery, Maine

Old Memorial Bridge looking from Portsmouth, NH to Kittery, Maine

My husband and I started at the Black Birch, a low-key and tiny space known for its small plates and a killer beer list. We started out with the deviled eggs, three halves each with their own twist on the summer picnic classic. The wasabi-spiced was the clear winner. For dinner, I had the duck with a sweet citrus glaze, which left me scoping the sticky yumminess up with my fork long after the duck was gone. My husband had the brick chicken – a dish that left me wondering how they could make plain-old-chicken taste so good. My husband sampled the darker beers on the list – of which there are plenty – while I started with the 2 Govt., a bourbon-based cocktail named in honor of the Black Birch’s address.

If whiskey is your thing, you’re sure to find something to make you happy here. Not only do they offer a solid selection of bourbon and rye, the Black Birch also has a constant rotation of seasonal whiskey-based cocktails on their menu that go above and beyond the seen-all-too-often twist on an Old Fashioned or Manhattan.

Next to the Black Birch is Buoy Gallery, founded by young artists looking for a space to showcase emerging art both local and from away. If the gallery looks like it’s having an opening or an event, stop in. Buoy focuses on innovative and captivating shows. If it’s not open, don’t worry. The Black Birch and Buoy are connected by a back hallway and you can usually take a peek in the gallery near the restaurant bathrooms.

Old Memorial Bridge, close forever

Old Memorial Bridge, close forever

Down the street is Anneke Jans, a fine dining restaurant with a casual yet classy bar attached to the main dining room. For nearly 10 years it’s been a trendy after work spot for Kittery’s professional class, and more recently inherited a top-notch chef to revamp the menu. If you’re going for cocktails, I suggest anything served in a martini glass. If you’re more of a wine drinker, there’s plenty to keep you happy on their list, too. Make sure to order the mussels, with bleu cheese. This once-weird combo is one of Anneke Jans’ signature dishes for its mix of briny and creamy tanginess.

The Foreside is not the only place of interest in Kittery. There are the shopping outlets on Route 1 which are easily accessible from Interstate 95. Here you’ll find Levis, Nike, Coach, and an entire building dedicated to the Gap-Banana Republic brand. There are your typical fried food restaurants along the strip, as well as the slightly upscale fish eatery, Robert’s Maine Grill, which is a must-stop for oyster lovers. For good food, good drinks and (slighty) less cost, drive north on Route 1 just past the outlets to the When Pigs Fly company store and restaurant. Here they elevate the classic pizza joint with craft beers, freshly made pizza, and oh-so-good sandwiches made on their own bread.

Lights over the Old Memorial Bridge

Lights over the Old Memorial Bridge

 

Kittery has long been the little sister to Portsmouth’s many great restaurants and was considered lacking when compared with the city’s art and music scene. But as rents climb and Portsmouth grows, young chefs, bartenders, artists and others from Seacoast New Hampshire are taking their ideas into Maine. This exodus has largely been Kittery’s gain and now those who come to visit Portsmouth have a whole new downtown to go to.

Marking the end with The Weirs

Sadly, I’ve hung up my Stay Work Play blogger hat. My final post was last week, an ode to one of my favorite New Hampshire spots, Weirs Beach. I thoroughly enjoyed my time blogging there, if not for the fact it forced me to write about something I love twice a month. I am hoping the regular ritual will continue as I work on spending more time on my personal writing. While I’m likely not to reach a Stephen King level of regularity, I do hope to publish something here in the coming weeks.

WeirsBeach (1)

Weirs Beach is where it’s at

Maybe it’s been too cold for too long, but I’ve found myself this week looking over my options for a summer vacation. I’ve done the mountains and I live near the ocean, both great choices, but the place I keep coming back to is in the heart of the Lakes Region.

Weirs Beach, in Laconia, is an old school resort town. As you drive into “the Weirs,” as my friends and I call it, the glowing sign tells you you’re in for fun. There’s swimming in Lake Winnipesaukee. There’re arcades, places to buy cheesy T-shirts, fudge, and racy coffee mugs. There’re mini golf and go-carts. There are bars and restaurants, a drive-in theater and a waterslide park. There is seriously so much fun here one cannot possibly fit it into one day.

Read more here:

Manchester Love

manchester

The longer I work in Manchester, the more I come to realize it’s my second home. Although I’m not in the city as often as I was during my Union Leader days, I have more professional connections in the Queen City than I do in my hometown. I’ve gotten to know the place from a unique perspective — as one who works but has never lived there — which inspired me to do a quick post about it.

There’s plenty to complain about when it comes to Manchester, like traffic. Seriously, how is it that traffic is so bad here. Perhaps the 1 million lights? Or the worst drivers north of Boston? Crime is another factor, which is relatively low compared to some other cities the size of Manchester, but people in New Hampshire are outraged by a dog fouling epidemic. Hearing about a rash of break-ins or a drug ring bust is cause for panic.

Manchester is one of those funny places that has a small town feel, but big city problems. I think the big city aspects add more to Manchester than diminish, but I hold things like culture, entertainment opportunities and diversity in high regard.  Here’s a sample of the Stay Work Play piece I wrote this week:

5 Reasons to Love Manchester

Manchester has many personas, depending on who you are and where you live. For some it’s where you see Van Halen play on its next tour. For others it’s a place to go bar hopping, and unfortunately for others, they see Manchester as a city where your car might get broken into. I’ve worked in Manchester off and on for a few years now and have found that the city has more to offer than its “Manchvegas” nickname lets on.

1. Manchester is multicultural

For one of the least diverse states in the country, New Hampshire’s Queen City is very diverse. Dozens of languages are spoken by students in Manchester’s public schools and more than 20 percent of the students are non-white. Manchester today is home to Sudanese, Bhutanese and Iraqis. Having different cultures represented in the city means there are stores and restaurants that cater to these cultures. The West Side has the Ali Baba Wholefoods Festival & Treasures, which serves wine, groceries and prepared food like falafel, shawarma and channa masala. Near Gill Stadium is its sister store the Spice Center, a market offering foods mainly from the Middle East and southeast Asia. There are many more small markets throughout the city that have ethnic food sections catering to the neighborhood. Manchester also has an embarrassing amount of good Mexican restaurants and a highly rated Nepali restaurant, Café Momo.

2. Manchester has the Merrimack River

During the Industrial Revolution, Manchester’s riverfront property was taken over by mills and warehouses. Now it has a baseball park, walking trails, and luxury condominiums. The mills are still there, but inside are tech firms, restaurants and the UNH Manchester campus. If you want to get up close to the river, head to Arms Park. Parking is ample and you can walk along the Merrimack just feet from the rushing water below.

Writing about beer

7th settlement

I don’t know if it’s because beer is perceived as a “dude thing” or if it’s because beer making and tasting has become a haven for snobs, contrarians and haters, but I find writing about beer very intimidating. Coming up with the words to describe the beer before me is far more of a struggle than writing about wine or spirits. The accepted language for those beverages is so much more forgiving and subjective, but with beer, if you don’t have your hops, malt and yeast palate honed razor sharp, you open yourself up to rigorous ridicule.

That’s probably why I took a more nostalgic look at the new Dover brewery, 7th Settlement. The quality of beer, the menu and the over all feel of the bar and dining room is such a gargantuan leap above the shit-holes where I once drank in Dover, I felt it needed mentioning. You will see me shy away from getting too deep into the beer tasting notes, for the above reason. No amount of liquid courage this day could conquer my fear of the critics.

7th Settlement picks up the craft beer mantle in Dover

When I last lived in Dover, there were very few places to go for a beer. This is many years ago, before the Barley Pub and the Brick House. Those places had just opened by the time I packed up my belongings and moved to Portsmouth. In the years since, many of my Portsmouth friends have moved back to Dover, a far more affordable place to live and do business, and as they’ve gotten to know Dover, I too have gotten to know Dover again.

I was sad to hear the Barley Pub closed down earlier this year. That establishment deserves a lot of the credit when it comes to making Dover nightlife what it is today, proving that a chill place to grab a beer and listen to live music could be done in Dover. Up until the Barley Pub opened, it was a town of rowdy beer halls and sports bars.

The Barely Pub will be missed by many, but its departure was almost simultaneous to the opening of 7th Settlement brewery at 47 Washington Street. Founded by two young entrepreneurs, Dave Boynton and Josh Henry, 7th Settlement is billed as New Hampshire’s first “community supported brewery.” This new kind of brewery runs similarly to community supported agriculture, where patrons buy in to the business of producing an edible product, reaping special benefits in return.

The founders are dedicated to supporting local farmers when it comes to making their beer, and when it comes to the food they serve in the brew pub. A few weeks ago, I met some friends there and was knocked out by the stylishly revamped mill space. High ceilings, exposed brick walls, room-length bar with plenty of high-top tables for meeting and eating with friends. In the back was a separated space, which I soon learned was for families. While this may seem somewhat cruel to quarantine parties with young children to a separate eating area, my husband and I breathed a sigh of relief when we realized we could let our daughter squeal and run around the table without child-free parties staring us down.

Please read more on the Stay Work Pay blog.

 

Is it a right or a rite?

2013 09 28_0371_edited-2

No matter how many year’s I’ve been writing, I still find myself tripping into a literary pitfall from time to time. I don’t care how long you’ve been writing, you are occasionally going to fall victim to one, too.

For instance, I often here people refer to “honing in” on something, as in they are pinpointing the cause or truthful nugget. However, “honing” means sharpening and really they mean “homing in” like a homing pigeon.

I got caught in the trap last week when writing my bimonthy post for Stay Work Play NH. The first line talks about how going to the apple orchard to pick your own apples is a “right of passage” for young people, when really I should have used the term “rite of passage.” Ugg. Thank God nothing on the Internet is permanent, right?

Not to let this error ruin a perfectly good blog post, here is the link. I’ve included a few more photos below of our trip, as well as an excerpt from the post.

How many apples can you eat?

Which pumpkin should I choose?

Which pumpkin should I choose?

I grew up down the street from an orchard, so I was exposed to a wide variety of apple dishes at an early age – apple crisp, apple cobbler, apple sauce, baked apples and of course, apple pie. I remember my mother peeling apples for hours for her annual pie bake. When I was old enough, she recruited me to peel some too. Hot apple pie ala mode was my reward.

I am far too busy and not nearly talented enough in the pastry-making department to carrying on this tradition, but I do try to hit an apple orchard every year for a small bag and a little time outdoors. Apple orchards just happen to be some of the most beautiful spots in the state, especially if you catch one on a sunny fall day as the leaves are changing.

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The first place we found is Miller Farm in New Durham. This small operation is not easy to find. After pulling off Route 11, the main road in New Durham, you twist and wind your way through ever-narrowing back country roads before finally spotting the small farm on the side of a hill. When my husband and I first arrived, we were the only customers there. A man emerged from the house, gave us a few Market Basket plastic bags and pointed us in the right direction.

“So are there any special varieties out there?” I asked.

“Nope. Just taste a few and pick the ones you like,” he said.

2013 09 28_0377_edited-1 The laid-back attitude didn’t end there. A beautiful black and white dog roamed the farm, occasionally stopping to sniff my shoes. Guinea hens, which kind of resemble partridges, clucked about in the yard, and off the back of the barn was a large corral containing one large horse that became a little friendlier when I fed him some apples.

The orchards were small, but the trees were chock full of apples. There were Red Delicious, Macoun, Cortland, MacIntosh and a few Golden Delicious. We strolled through the trees, snacking on what looked good and every few minutes stopping to throw a few in the bag. We picked 15 pounds. It cost $17. Last year I went to a larger apple orchard which shall remain nameless. I picked less than 5 pounds. That cost me $20. Miller Farm was definitely a bargain.

2013 10 05_0363_edited-1This weekend, we headed to the Monadnock Region to visit my husband’s family and decided to make a trip to Old Ciderpress Farm in Westmoreland. This is less of a hard spot to find, with only a few turns and a short drive down a dirt road to get there. As the name suggests this spot specializes in cider, and this cider is about as fresh as it gets. When we purchased our half gallon, we were told it had been pressed that morning. The press was still sitting outside.

2013 10 05_0364_edited-2Here we found another relaxed operation – a small orchard with nothing but a small stand outside their garage. They didn’t have any bags of picked apples at that time, so they offered to send someone down to pick a variety for us. We opted for pick-your-own. Once we arrived in the selected picking area, we found the selection ample, the apples big and the taste delicious.

New Hampshire Fair Season, My Heaven

fair

Each year in March and early April, Miami-Dade hosts a fair and exhibition, one of the few times of year the weather is cool and sunny like a New England fall day. The Miami Fair is everything you would expect from such an event: food, lame shows, rides, bad art exhibitions. But of course it’s Miami, so everything is a little gaudier, a little more extreme.

When I lived in Miami in the late ’90s, there were a series of AV club-style commercials for the fair on the local television stations. Because I was always very broke and couldn’t afford cable, I was often watching some game show or syndicated sitcom on these local stations, which gave me ample exposure to the Miami Fair advertising strategy. These commercials featured flashing lights, quick shots of exciting rides and young people taking huge bites out of cotton candy and hot dogs. At the end, a chorus of cheesy singers would belt out in an ascending melody, “Be there, the fair, be THERE!”

Around the 10th time my roommate and I heard this catchy tune, it was permanently ingrained in our memories. We would sing it as often as we could comically fit it into conversation. If someone asked if we were going to a party, the response was, “I’ll BE THERE!” Or if I ran into my roommate on campus, we’d spontaneously break out our beloved fair song. I could still sing you this song today.

Now I live in New Hampshire, which is the heart of fair country. Each fall when my friends and I go over which fairs we want to attend, I annoy them to no end with this stupid song. Unfortunately, they didn’t get to hear how great it really was.

After a quick search, I found a toned-down modern version of the commercial, which doesn’t quite have the exuberant singing I remember, but it will give you an idea of what I’m talking about. I also wrote a Stay Work Play post about my secrets to successful fairing, which I sample below.

The Fair, Be There

The end of summer is such a bittersweet time of year. The hottest days are behind us, the swimming is a whole lot colder and everything seems to end earlier in the evening now that people are back in school.

But the end of summer and beginning of fall also brings us fried dough, the Tilt-A-Whirl and animal exhibitions. That’s right. I’m talking about the fair.

New Hampshire is lucky to have so many great agricultural fairs. I’ve done most of the fairs on the east side of Interstate 93 and a few in Maine and Massachusetts. For the past few years, my friends and I have invested serious time and money into studying the art of fair-going and I can confidently say we have perfected the trip to the fair. Here are my tips for maximizing your time this fair season.

1. Get full first

Many people will disagree with this, especially those who like rides. But now that we are all a little older and wiser, can’t we just admit we go to the fair for the food? Why torture yourself longer than you need to?

I usually go with a decent-sized group of people, maybe 5 or 6, all of whom I am comfortable with sharing food. This is the only way I have found you can make it through the wealth of so-bad-for-you-it’s-good cuisine each fair offers. Once you arrive, take a tally of what everyone wants to eat. Then get something right away that’s easy to share, like French fries or a bloomin’ onion. Snack on this as you stroll up and down the food aisles looking for the special fair treats you want. I get a turkey leg and give my friends take a few bites. Another friend gets deep-fried Twinkies, which everyone wants to try, and yet another friend buys a giant root beer with a keeper cup which we can sip to wash down the feast.

BLH Writing Solutions blogs for The Quechee Club

quechee2

As Editor-in-Chief of BLH Writing Solutions, I’d like to announce I will be working with Means-of-Production marketing services to launch a new blog for The Quechee Club in Vermont.

Like it’s name suggests, The Quechee Club is located in Quechee, VT., a quick drive from the Dartmouth-Hanover area and about an hour north Concord. Part of my task is to highlight not only The Quechee Club community and wealth of amenities, such as golf, skiing, tennis, private lake, athletic club and pool, but to also shine a light on all there is to do in the Quechee area.

Unfamiliar with this part of Vermont, I took a trip up the other day and was surprised to learn how much there is to do in the area. There’s a Simon Pearce gallery and restaurant, the Montshire Science Museum and the headquarters of King Authur Flour nearby (which may not sound like a big deal, but kinda is). There’s also the vast hiking and kayaking opportunities and of course the famous Quechee Gorge.

There is certainly no lack of material to cover. As I get started on the project this week, I’m looking forward to working with all the great people at Quechee and becoming an expert on the area.

Wine in Walpole

Inside the Walpole Mountain View Winery tasting room

Inside the Walpole Mountain View Winery tasting room

Walpole should be just like every other small town in New Hampshire’s Monadnock Region — rolling hills dotted with historic homes, an agrarian landscape, a few shops to support the residents in a central village and a fair amount of poverty. But Walpole is not that. Not at all.

As you drive the winding country roads through the hills of Walpole, you see beautifully restored homes from the 18th and 19th centuries. Most are old colonial farmhouses, though some are clearly grand summer retreats built for the wealthy at the turn of the last century. The landscaping is impeccable, the lawns immaculate. As someone not from the area, I wondered who these residents are. Where did they earn the money for such grand homes? Are they all retired? And where did they find the time to do all that yard work?

Walpole is a town located about 20 minutes north of Keene, NH, in what has always been a rural part of the state. Among its roughly 4,000 residents is documentary filmmaker Ken Burns, lending the town an elite air. In the downtown you’ll find L.A. Burdick Chocolates flagship store and restaurant, which looks like a tourist-trap general store outside, but like a Parisian bistro inside. The chocolates are well-known for their ridiculously great quality, yet became even more famous when Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg served Burdick’s chocolate mice at his wedding.

chocolate

Take a short drive, maybe 10 minutes, out of town and you will find the Walpole Mountain View Winery. It boasts 32 grape varieties on site, but I didn’t find any of the wines particularly outstanding. My husband and I did a tasting and found the semi-sweet wines to be the best. We purchased a 2011 bottle of their Assemblage Red and headed back to the car.

walpole

I have to add here, though, that while the wine selection may not draw you to Walpole Mountain View Winery, the “mountain view” part is pretty spectacular.

winery

I wrote about the winery, the chocolate and ice cream in a recent blog post for Stay Work Play, but I wanted to talk a little more about Walpole here partly because there are so many beautiful spots and so many great views, like this one:

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And a nice amount of good food for somewhere that should just be a rural outpost between Keene and Dartmouth.

But what I found most striking about Walpole, and what I most wanted to write about, is that Walpole seems to be almost entirely devoid of poverty. Visit any town in this area and you’ll find beautifully restored homes neighboring a rundown trailer with four different kinds of vehicles in varying stages of repair on the lawn. You’ll find homes that appear to be at the precipice of collapse and others so minutely modest you wonder how anyone could even fit a bed inside. Walpole has none of this. It has none of this because it apparently has long been a place for the rich, the Ivy League professor, the Dartmouth-Hitchcock surgeon or the retired investment banker. Louisa May Alcott summered here, as did many politicians from years ago. I suppose any town that has a pedigree chart available on its town Historical Society website has long been tony.

Perhaps this environment is why Ken Burns landed in Walpole and why L.A. Burdick didn’t opt for Harrisville or some other tiny New Hampshire outpost and why Walpole is home to a winery and gourmet ice cream maker as well. These exceptional businesses all found a home and clientele in this rural upscale retreat, but I wonder if the wealthy of today would have even come here if these things did not exists? What drew them to Walpole really, and what drew those wealthy residents before them and before the chocolate and ice cream and Ken Burns in the neighborhood? It’s something I think just about any poor, small New England town would like to know. Does money follow the high-brow amenities or do you need money to get the high brow in the first place?