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The magic rise of the classic savory soufflé has lost some of its luster in today’s home kitchens.  But in the 1970s, along with another staple of French cuisine, the quiche, they were the ne plus ultra, helping to educate the American home cook in the ways of European cookery.

About a month ago I started making soufflés to serve as a light supper dish with a salad or as an accompaniment to grilled fish or chicken.  I wondered why it had gone out of favor?  Now I think of it as essential as mashed potatoes for a side dish.  You literally can whip up the soufflé mixture in minutes.

Cheese souffle

The formula is straightforward.  You need a solid base, usually a béchamel enriched with cheese, vegetable or fish.  Corn is a great addition as is crab meat or salmon.

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It’s such an unlikely source for Italian American style meat sauce, which is simply called Spaghetti Sauce in a compilation of recipes that I generally turn to for the old-fashioned desserts like coconut cream pie.  The cookbook is Mrs. Rowe’s Restaurant Cookbook, a compilation of family recipes that highlight this long-standing roadside restaurant in the Shenandoah Valley town of Staunton, Virginia.

The recipe is called DiGrassie’s Spaghetti Sauce, named after Mildred Rowe’s husband, Willard DiGrassie. And it’s so good there’s barely a drop left in the bowl.

The sauce is so good you’re apt to lick yur bowl clean

It bears no relation to more complex sauces that you’re apt to find in the tomes of Mario Batali, Marcella Hazen, Lidia Bastianich or even Rachel Raye (though she would probably love this sauce).

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I’ve been making this sweet and sour pot roast for years ever since I found the recipe in an obscure cookbook called Menus and Memoirs: Confessions of a Culinary Snob by George Spunt who spent his formative childhood years in a wealthy French-Austrian Russian family who emigrated to Shanghai in the early part of the 20th century and lived there until communist rule took over. He spent his remaining years in San Francisco and wrote several more books including a step by step guide to Chinese cooking, which he learned from the family Shanghainese chef who was commandeered by various family members to cook middle European food in the Chinese manner. It’s an interesting compilation indeed.

Fall roses and pot roast

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Sunset fell at 6:50 PM.  The fog was rolling in as thick as a crypt, and by the time we pulled up to the front door of the imposing visage of the Black Point Inn looking like Manderley on the mount, it was already dark at 7:05.

The setting earlier this summer

But when we decided to go to the inn for dinner on a recent Friday night it wasn’t close to dusk yet, disregarding the logistics of dining by the sea at the tail end of summer.  If our fantasy was to dine by the sea on a perfect summer’s eve to gaze at the undulating sea, we miscalculated. Views of the ocean don’t exist at night.

Arriving earlier thnis summer

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That it has remained the haven for the gold-bug class to the beat of inner city ennui, time will tell what  effect the Amazon purchase of Whole Foods  will have on us shoppers as it opts to change its whole paycheck image to a cut-rate store.  Will quality suffer?  And will we lose the cachet of shopping at Whole Foods where Vuitton bags on the arms of women shoppers are the norm in an otherwise diffident city?

The Portland Whole Foods Market

I visited the store on the day that the changeover occurred and was shocked to see a sign that read: “Air-chilled chickens, $1.79 per pound.”  Wow, this was big news in our community where farm chickens  run $5 to $6 per pound.  WF’s cut-rate bird is not a locally raised farm bird but respectfully natural with decent taste and texture.

As I toured the store that day and later in the week most products were priced without discount.  Take butter, both local and national brands. Kate’s is over $6 per pound at Whole Foods compared to around $4 at Hannaford (it’s since been raised to $5.25 there).

Notable price drops at WF

Hannaford, for example, was running a special on Casco Bay Butter at $3.99 per pound, compared to $7+ at Whole Foods.  I overheard the dairy guy at Hannaford say to a co-worker that they had to get rid of the CB Butter because the warehouse was overstocked. At the Forest Avenue store, it’s off the shelf.

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It’s a long time coming for the Roma Café to be resurrected  to full glory since its glorious past and ignominious decline (circa 1920s to 1980s).  Its latest iteration (and one hopes it lasts for generations) is led by chef Anders Tallberg (formerly chef and co-owner, Roustabout), Mike Fraser (Bramhall Pub below the restaurant) and Guy Streitburger (also of Bramhall).  The latter has had a long, steady rise from bus-boy/waiter at the original Cinque Terre where he often left you with the refrain “excellent.”  I think he still  expresses that lilting phrase, but, in any case, he’s a delightful young man whose restaurant visions have brought him here flawlessly.

The building, 767 Congress, is owned by Burt’s Bee’s founder and woman of consequence, Roxanne Quimby who might also be the wealthiest woman in Maine from her savvy maneuverings of making lip balm into a mega industry.  When she bought the building, she gave it her gold-plated touch.  She turned the old Roma kitchen into a masterpiece that could easily have served the fabled kitchens of wordly-wise gloire.

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Finally, it’s high grilling season as the summer bounty trickles in to markets after our prolonged wet and chilly spring.  I was in the Mid-Coast yesterday for a day trip and my first stop was Beth’s Farm Market where early strawberries were on magnificent display as well as the farm’s just-dug crop of new potatoes—the red variety, small, velvety and sweet. We probably won’t see those two crops in Portland until July 4th weekend.

Beth’s market in Warren with early strawberries and new potatoes are plentiful now

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Something happened on the way to the forum of El Corazon the food truck to its new iteration of El Corazon the restaurant.  Its food truck still enjoys great popularity for good reason: the home-style comfort food is delicious, a fast bite of street fare from tostados to burritos.  But at the restaurant it was a lowly experience of the worst kind of kitschy preps that befall Americanized Mexican cooking.

The bar at El Corazon

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Not exactly a hop-skip-and-a jump from Portland, we were Lewiston bound in search of the comfort zone of the Forage Market bagel, as highlighted in the October 2016 issue of Saveur Magazine with the headline: “Is one of  America’s best bagels in. . . Lewiston, Maine?”

A convivial morning crowd at Forage market there to scoop up the bakeries fine bagels and other delights

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We wound up for dinner at The Front Room by default.  Our first pick was the convenience of Roustabout, a few minutes from home.  It was closed for a private party.  Second choice, up the hill to Lolita.  And that, too, was closed for a private party.  It was as though we had spiraled into a conspiracy to keep us from enjoying the dinner hour.   But it’s holiday time and many restaurants in Portland are enjoying increased dining traffic with seasonal fetes.

We found a parking space, however, near Lolita—a   near miracle since the arcane parking rules on Munjoy Hill, Portland’s most trendy neighborhood, defy urban ease, probably the most difficult place to park in the city with No Parking signs everywhere.

Then it occurred to us to repair to the Front Room, a few blocks away. As we approached the restaurant it looked dark.  Oh, no.  Closed too?  It was just the angle of light and darkness that gave that impression.  But as soon as we walked in we were so glad.  What a warm and welcoming room, with its beamed ceilings and open kitchen lauding over the room.

The dining room is warm and welcoming

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