Sunday, February 28, 2010

Trader Joe's in Bethlehem... so far, just a dream.

I am one happy woman, and my freezer and pantry are stocked. We just returned from a visit to the Westfield, NJ, location of Trader Joe's. As usual, the store was jam-packed with customers and tasty treats. We chose to drive 55 miles to Westfield versus one of the six closer PA locations (North Wales, Jenkintown, Wayne, Ardmore, Philly Center City, and Media) and two closer NJ locations (Florham Park, Princeton) because this store has WINE (and beer). We came home with a mixed case-and-a-half of wine, only having spent a fraction of what we typically spend at PA state stores. Downtown Westfield is really cute, too, and even though it's a few more miles further away, it's about the same drive time as North Wales and a lower toll cost.

For your enjoyment, I scanned and posted a page from the Fearless Flyer, which is always an entertaining read. This month's edition ("The Swimsuit Issue") also highlights really affordable meals like pancakes ($1.99/box for mix, plus cost of four eggs and some water = 4 cents per pancake) and spaghetti with meat sauce:
"Just Spaghetti is $2.49 for a pound of cooked pasta, and Turkey Bolognese is
$2.49 for 12 ounces of hearty sauce. Together, $4.98 for enough food for a
family of four (okay, maybe two, if you have teenaged boys)."

"Things You Don't Need" - ha! How about, grocery stores with high prices and long lines? In a store packed with people, we only waited one minute to be served in the checkout line.

Outside the Westfield store, you can see a happy shopper headed home, and blooming tulips inside the window.
Our haul.
We'll be back in a few months to restock. In the meantime, we will enjoy the fruits of our labor. I just put in a burgundy pepper lamb roast for dinner tonight. Yum!
If you're interested in sending a message to Trader Joe's, visit their web site and put in a "location request." I'm pulling for either Clinton, NJ (close enough, and they could carry alcohol) or downtown Easton, PA.

Monday, February 22, 2010

March Quest: Best Mexican restaurant in the Lehigh Valley?

It's cold outside and it's not getting warmer anytime soon.

I've decided that my quest for March is going to be finding good Mexican food in the Lehigh Valley, and I'm enlisting your help. If it goes well, it might appear in my Lehigh Valley Style column later this year.

Becca and I could not think of one local Mexican restaurant that was not a BYOB. Then I remembered hearing that Casa Toro, Amigo Mio and Fiesta Ole's multiple locations serve alcohol. She says that there are places in Austin that provide margarita mix and a blender, and people bring their own tequila (nice!). I learned this week that Cactus Blue does this, and changes up its featured flavors every month.

I started by reading Beyond Scrapple's advice. Thanks, Mike! You gave me a head start.

Then I did a little internet research, and was surprised at the sheer quantity of restaurants that classify themselves as "Mexican." I wondered whether some Ecuadoran, or Dominican, and market themselves as Mexican to reach a broader audience? General Zapata didn't even appear on my list, and I consider their food Mexican and Puerto Rican.

Here's my preliminary list. Let me know what you think - what's worth going to? what's closed (so I can scratch them off)? what have I missed?

Bethlehem
Cactus Blue‎ (2915 Schoenersville Road) * Lunch this Wednesday with Jolene, Zeynep, and Julie!
Fiesta Ole‎ (2955 Linden Street)
Mexico Lindo Deli Restaurant (720 Main Street)
Tulum‎ (17 West Morton Street)‎ * My favorite little burrito joint near Lehigh U
La Lupita (4 West 4th Street)

Allentown
La Mexicana Grill‎ (407 North 7th Street)
Casa Latina Restaurant (527 North 7th Street) * Beata and I went a couple of weeks ago. I'm overdue to post about our visit!
Cochifrito Restaurante Aqui Me Quedo (105 North 7th Street)
La Cocina Restaurant (37 North 7th Street)
‎‎Tu Nueva Casa Restaurant‎ (223 Hamilton Street)
Amigo Mio Cafe‎ (545 Cleveland Street)
Burrito Grille ‎(4791 West Tilghman Street)
El Castillo Delcaribe‎ (346 Ridge Avenue)
Cali Burrito‎ (3104 Hamilton Boulevard)
La Placita Mexico (158 North 12th Street)

Easton
Paqueria La Plaza (1647 Washington Boulevard)
Las Delicias Restaurant‎ (144 West Saint Joseph Street)
Mex-Tex Trio‎ (42 South 3rd Street)

Other
Casa Toro (7001 PA-309, Coopersburg)
El Cactus (2180 MacArthur Road, Whitehall)
Fiesta Ole Mexican Restaurant (1808 Macarthur Road, Whitehall)
Fiesta Ole Mexican Restaurant (1116 Chestnut Street, Emmaus)
Sante Fe Taco Co (2022 Main Street, Northampton)
Plaza Restaurant (1492 Main Street, Catasauqua)

Thanks in advance for your help!

Sunday, February 21, 2010

You have been warned

FYI, When it's your birthday at Thai Thai II (509 Main Street, Bethlehem), the lights in the entire dining room go out, loud music plays, and a flaming dish of fried ice cream is presented to you. Here's a terrible photo of the table next to us, getting the birthday treatment.

Beats the pants off the performance at Red Robin (sorry, Red Robin employees).



It inspired us to head up Main Street to get ice cream of our own at Heavenly Hedgehog (563 Main Street, Bethlehem). I had a dish of Midnight snack (chocolate with Oreos) that disappeared before it could be photographed. Oops.


A few resident hedgehogs.



All the ice cream is made fresh in Bethlehem, and they're open year-round. Yum.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Beer Heaven

I was running errands yesterday on Lehigh Street when I realized how close I was to Shangy's (40 E Main St. Emmaus).

You know, Beer Heaven!

Shangy's not just a standard PA beer distributor - it's a superstore of beer, cigars and snacks. They stock over 500 varieties of domestic and imported beers.

Mike told me to pay close attention to Shangy's reviews, especially their thoughts on Corona, see below:

"Shangy's Beer Review
Brand: Corona Extra Style: Lager? Color: None
Taste: Very mild if not tasteless. This is another MASS PRODUCED beer filled with preservaties and adjuncts. Save your taste buds and drink craft brewed beers. Don't waste your money and time, unless (i) you don't like the taste of beer or (ii) you are on a island with absolutely no choices, including tap water! This maybe (sic) the World's most expensive case of water. P.S. Don't waste your time! Shangy Rating: No Stars"

You've got to love a store that tries to educate you a little, and would even discourage you from drinking bad beer. (I wonder what the Corona distributor thinks of their little missive.)

When you have lived in another state, you get used to their alcohol laws. In DC, grocery stores and convenience stores carry beer. You can also buy beer, wine and liquor at specialty stores like Calvert Woodley (with its own cheeserie - nice) or trendy little wine boutiques like Best Cellars. Grocery stores like Harris Teeter carry wine in Virginia (but not in DC). Still paying attention? Moving to Pennsylvania was a big shock: So, let me get this straight... not only can I not buy beer and wine in the same store, but I can't even have wine shipped to my home from a winery I love in California? Wegman's and Weis now sell beer; I hope that's a sign of positive things to come.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Brunch fever

Brunch is probably my favorite meal of the day. Maybe it's the fact that you can only have it on a Sunday, and you rarely eat it alone or on the go. I have been lucky enough to enjoy brunch at two of my favorite restaurants recently: Granny McCarthy's Tea Room (534 Main Street) and Sette Luna (219 Ferry Street, Easton).

At Sette Luna, two of my companions ordered the Tuscan Benedict (a steal at $10.95 each), which includes Poached eggs, House cured pancetta, sautéed Swiss chard, Wolferman’s muffins (thick as hockey pucks but they taste heavenly with jam), a huge pile of homefries (not the frozen kind), and roasted grapefruit. Another friend had a beautiful frittata and a pile of Italian bread. They all dug in so fast and never put down their forks, so I couldn't snap a photo to show you.

Okay, enough. I have waxed poetically about SL in the past, so I will show you a photo of my tasty tri-colore salad with goat cheese on slices of blood orange. Dressed simply in olive oil, salt and pepper, I have been craving it ever since. That's my glass of pear nectar in the upper left-hand corner.
The four of us ate ourselves silly, couldn't stop talking about the freshness of the ingredients, and ordered two pizzas to go. Total, the bill was $100.00. We walked off some of our muffins by circling the block, peeking in at the Carmelcorn Shop (62 Centre Square), Eagle's Nest Antiques on the Square (60 Centre Square) and Christine's Secret Garden (249 Northampton Street) before stuffing ourselves back in the car.

Another recent weekend you could find me carb-loading at Granny McCarthy's.

The "marketplace" part of Donegal Square is currently under construction, and the dining room will soon be expanded into the space.

McCarthy's Tea Room and Restaurant makes many dishes from owner Neville Gardner’s native Northern Ireland they say that many items are actually family recipes. My companion ordered the Celtic Breakfast, with eggs, potato farl, griddle cooked tomatoes, Irish loin bacon, banger sausages, white and black pudding. Since there wasn't a breakfast sandwich special this time, I ordered porridge with raisins and ate about 17 pieces of brown bread and scones from the bread basket. We each had our own small pot of tea (vanilla, and cream early grey). The bill was $25.00.

I will visit both places again. Soon.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Blizzard baking

Muffin by me; gorgeous handmade tile backsplash courtesy of Steven Goldner

I asked my mom yesterday whether she baked things when it snowed. It seems to me that the colder it gets outside, and the higher the drifts get, the more I find myself inexplicably up to my elbows in flour. Maybe it's the warmth of the oven, the need to "use up" what's in the fridge (in my case, a gift box of beautiful Honeybelles from Harry & David), or cabin fever. Regardless, I am channeling two of my favorite LV bloggers (Anne and Capri) now when I share with you my recipe for a snowbound alternative to my favorite cranberry orange muffins from Fresh Market (Promenade Shops, Center Valley).

It is adapted from a recipe for Sticky Orange Muffins that I found in the Fannie Farmer cookbook (the one that my mom used a lot when we were little, more evidence). They aren't too pretty, but they taste like a cross between a scone and a muffin with fruit on the bottom.

Blizzard of 2010 Orange/Cranberry/Scone/Muffins
2 oranges
1/4 cup honey
2 C flour
1/2 cup uncooked oatmeal
1 T baking
powder
1 t salt
1/2 C sugar
2 eggs, lightly beaten
2/3 C milk
5 T butter, melted
1/2 C Craisins


Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Grease muffin pans. Grate outer layer of orange zest; set aside. Remove the rest of the peel and cut the oranges into slices about 1/4 thick. Remove seeds and set aside. Put about 1 teaspoon of honey in each muffin cup and place an orange slice on top.

In mixing bowl, combine dry ingredients. Add the orange rind, Craisins, eggs, milk, and melted butter, and stir until just mixed. Spoon batter over the orange slices, filling each cup until about 2/3 full. Bake for 15-20 minutes. Serve warm, especially with tea. Any leftovers should be refrigerated. Align Left

Enjoy, and here's to surviving the snowiest winter in Lehigh Valley. It's just 37 days until spring.

Lehigh Valley Style column for May

I'm working on my column for May... due in February. Since there's a bit of a lead time I am attempting to write some timeless copy, but I'd also like to promote some of the arts & culture-related events happening in May/June. I've enlisted the help of Randall Forte at the Lehigh Valley Arts Council and am subscribed to the LVAN's blog. But I'm not as well-equipped to cover the "cultural" side - are there any summer cultural festivals (besides the obvious) you've been to and would recommend? I'm turning to you in the blogosphere because I would like to provide content that you can't find anywhere else. Feel free to put it out there in the comments section, or if you prefer, email lehighvalleytransplant@gmail.com.

Saturday, February 06, 2010

Pearly's Chili Cook-off


Now that you are completely exhausted from shoveling and are starting to catch cabin fever (or is it just me?), you might be thinking about really good reasons to leave the house this weekend.

First, if you have a dog, you two should take a walk in the snow. I have seen some truly blissed-out doggies today.

Then, read LVScene to find out what Joel has dug up for the bar scene. Not enough? Pearly Baker's Ale House (11 Centre Square, Easton) is hosting its 15th annual chili cook-off tomorrow. Doesn't chili sound good right about now? How about 15 different kinds of chili? Wouldn't it feel even better to know that your $5 entrance fee benefits Safe Harbor, a homeless shelter in Easton? Then, stick around Pearly's or visit one of the other pubs in downtown Easton that will likely have the game on:

- Mother's (3 Lehns Ct., just off Centre Square)
- Porter's Pub‎ (700 Northampton St.)
- Drinky's‎ (240 Northampton St.)
- Larry Holmes Ringside Restaurant‎ (91 Larry Holmes Dr.)

Are you doing anything except hibernating today? Where do you plan to watch the Superbowl tomorrow?

Monday, February 01, 2010

An almost perfect day in Bethlehem

It was an almost perfect afternoon in Bethlehem. The part that kept it from being completely perfect was the fact that I had to pay a parking ticket at the Bethlehem Parking Authority. I figured I would save a stamp and hand-deliver my payment, since I was already shelling out 10 bucks for an expired meter!

Things improved when I had a few minutes to kill before visiting my friend Moe's house. I popped in to La Petit Provence (458 Main Street, Bethlehem), a shop I had noticed before but had never ventured into. It's obvious the moment you walk in that it's not like any other store in the Lehigh Valley. The owner, Pat, personally selects quality European table linen and gifts for her shop, including table linen with napkins to match, runners and placemats in a variety of fabrics, custom French Macrame curtains, cookware and flatware, and pottery from France, Italy and Mexico. Pat and I had a great conversation about the area, and it turns out, she grew up in the neighborhood where we live now. I picked out two tablecloths I loved, but I couldn't decide, so I promised to return after lunch.

After checking out Moe's new digs, we walked over to my favorite little Mediterranean/Middle Eastern spot, Petra Mediterranean (81 West Broad Street Bethlehem). The lunch buffet is gone, but the full menu was available. I ordered a green salad and a mixed platter of mezze - tabbouleh, muhamarrah, hummus, and a couple of others - and was in heaven with the mixture of flavors and freshness of ingredients. The food, the conversation, and the atmosphere, hit the spot. Two lunches and drinks came to less than $25.

After lunch, Pat encouraged me to take both tablecloths home to see how they looked on the table. We ended up with a beautiful green cloth with olives and olive trees on it. It almost made up for the parking ticket.