Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Gone to the dogs...

There has not been much cooking to blog about at my house lately, as we were gone for the long weekend to Massachusetts (and preparing to go for days before that). I had my dog, Grady, entered in the big shows in West Springfield on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, and we didn't get home until pretty late Sunday night. Then--and I can hardly believe this--the second session of summer classes began on Monday, so I hit the ground running as soon as I got back from my mini-vacay. The summer is really flying by, even though it hasn't really felt like summer until the last couple of muggy days when I had to break down and turn on the AC to be able to sleep comfortably at night. :-(

Sadly, my sweet little man was not victorious over the weekend, even though I used what was left of the "economic incentive" that Mr. Bush sent me to hire a handler to show him for me. I hoped having a professional handler who is more skilled than I and better-known to the judges would give him the competitive edge, but apparently not! Oh well. At least I got to watch my boy show for once from ringside, and I even managed to take some video with my spiffy new multi-tasking camera that I got for Christmas! I thought maybe you'd like to see my beautiful boy strutting his stuff (if I can figure out how to embed a video...cross your fingers that this works). Of course, he didn't win, but he did get reserve, which is kind of like runner-up or second prize in a beauty contest in Monopoly (though you don't even get that measly fake ten bucks for it).

Speaking of money I don't have, here is one of my infamous tips for those of you budget-conscious folks that find yourselves needing accommodations near the "Big E" in West Springfield: stay in Enfield, CT, just across the state line! Though Connecticut is the toniest state in the union, somehow, it's cheap as chips to stay there. If you have pets with you, consider either the very low-rent Motel 6 or the slightly nicer Red Roof Inn which are just across the street from one another, and both are right smack dab in the middle of some excellent suburban shopping malls and eateries. In fact, one of my favorite places to dine there is the Royal Buffet for some of the best Chinese food around. You know how those buffets are--some are just okay and some are truly dreadful, but this one is among the best I've found. Their seafood dishes are especially good; try the shrimp scampi and the coconut shrimp! If you still have room after stuffing yourselves at the Chinese buffet, head across the street to Smyth's Delicious Ice Cream Stand, where there is always a line on a summer evening, but it's worth the wait. By request, they created for me a Turtles-type affair with roasted almonds, caramel, and chocolate dip mixed into vanilla ice cream. YUM!

Grady showed early on Saturday, so when he was done, we tucked him away at the hotel with a big, gnarly knuckle bone to chew, the t.v. on for company, and the AC to keep him cool and comfy, and then we headed off to go sightseeing for the day. We considered perhaps doing a "duck tour" of Boston which I have always wanted to do, but a friend and MA native that I saw at the show on Friday recommended that we try her favorite clam shack in Essex on Cape Ann. When I posed the choices to Cyd, she said she would rather poke around "charming seafood towns" for the day. I think that may have been a slip of the tongue and she intended to say "charming seaside towns," but then again, maybe she said precisely what she meant! And let me tell you, Essex is DEFINITELY a charming seafood town! Apparently, a clam shack called Woodman's is all the rage, but my friend Joan and many knowledgeable Chowhounders said to try Farnham's instead. We were not disappointed. The wait was pretty long, even without much of a crowd, but the food was terrific and so was the view of the salt marsh from our picnic table.

Our original thought was to order a sampling of things at BOTH Farnham's and Woodman's and do a head-to-head taste test, but we pretty much shot our wad on the food at Farnham's! No one said good seafood was gonna be cheap, and as the guy at the table next to us told his visiting parents, "It's a bit pricey, but you've paid that much for BAD clams before--at least these are great ones!" He may have a point. I myself am not fond of clams, but Cyd had Farnham's famous clam boat, and I tried some of hers. They were very tender and sweet with a nice, light cornmeal-based crust. But I think I made the more adventurous choice that paid off big time by ordering one of that day's specials, the cod cheeks. Yes, they are exactly what they sound like--the cheeks from the heads of very large cod that are about a half-dollar size, and because they tend to be firmer than the rest of the fish, they are particularly well-suited to frying. To fishermen and folks from the Atlantic region, they are considered a delicacy (no, that's not a synonym for "gross!"), plus it uses up more of the fish, so it makes me feel all green and ecological and environmentally conscious to eat them. More importantly, they are damn delicious! Cyd even admitted the cheeks were better than the clams (don't worry--we shared), and the platter was half the price of the clams and included onion rings!

Lastly, Farnham's offers a whole range of chowders, but we tried a cup of their none-too-humbly named "Best Seafood Chowder." This was the kitchen sink of chowders, with a bit of everything in it, including clams, haddock, scallops, and shrimp, and the broth was tinged a pale pink with a hint of tomato. I know purists will balk at the Manhattan twist, but it truly was the best chowder, as its name honestly proclaimed. In fact, I'm thinking about trying to recreate it at home in the heat of summer...that's how much I loved that chowder!

We spent the rest of the day poking around Cape Ann. I brake for all farm stands, like this one where we got some yummy, homemade monkey bread and a sackful of fresh peas (I told you it's still spring-like in this region!). And I bought some squash plants at the next one, because with all the rain we've had, I think the seeds I planted a month ago must have rotted in the ground. It's very late to replant, of course, but squash grows so fast, I don't think it will be a problem. We'll soon see...

Following the signs for the previous farm stand and greenhouse, we passed another marker pointing toward Wingaersheek Beach, so we decided to check it out. Apparently, the parking fee is very steep ($20 a day or $15 after 3pm), but because we showed up after 5pm, admission was free! And it was a perfect beach, too. The water was very calm, and you could walk out in it forever without going past your knees. There were cool rock formations to climb on, and a lovely lighthouse made for a picture-postcard view. We even saw live clams trying to dig their way back under the sand (trying to hide from Farnham's and Woodman's and the others along "Clam Alley", no doubt!). After some quality beach time, we kept driving the loop all the way from cute little Rockport (which reminded me a lot of Provincetown with its narrow streets and little shops all crowded together) to Pigeon Cove to Annisquam and back around to Gloucester before we had to head back to check on Mr. Grady in the motel room. All in all, it was a delightful day on the coast, which made the trip seem more like a proper vacation.

We were done showing by early afternoon on Sunday, and we were eager to get home and relax for the evening before resuming work on Monday. But you know what they say about the best-laid plans of mice and men! (Are mice really big planners? They seem like spontaneous, fly-by-the-seat-of-their-err-pants creatures to me. See the cheese? GET the cheese! But I digress...) Everything went to hell in a handbasket just because I decided to take a short detour to my favorite Hudson Valley farm for pie cherries. It's a little off our beaten path, but even Cyd admitted that it was worth the drive for the homemade shrimp and avocado soup alone! The problem was the absolutely terrifying 4th of July weekend traffic on I-90 that we would have been stuck in had we gone back the way that we came. So we ended up doing some crazy loop down several rural highways and across the Rip Van Winkle Bridge ending up south of Albany. By that time, we needed more than cold Mexican soup to revive and sustain us, so we stopped for dinner at a BBQ joint in Clifton Park called Giffy's that served an excellent smoked chicken, some dynamite baby back ribs, and a spicy house macaroni salad with which I was most enamored and may have to try to retro-engineer at home, as is my way. So our four-hour trip home was nearly doubled, but it was scenic and fun (as I sure Cyd would agree--ha ha). To be sure, it was hell getting up the next day for work, but I think it was worth it. We managed to squeeze in quite a lot of vacationing into one long weekend. I hope yours was fun, too!


Randi said...

Grady is so cute. I want to pinch his cheeks. We're currently on vacation in Halifax and we're missing our boys terribly. Look for some food related posts when we get back.

Randi said...

If you want a little taste, check out a thread on egullet called "Peter the Eater and Calipoutine. A lobster roll test kitchen. It should be in the cooking thread.