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We emerged from the house Sunday morning to confront the aftermath of Hurricane Irene. A leaning nectarine tree was the worst we suffered. We were going a little stir crazy and decided to grab a movie down at the Promenade. Their website had listings so we assumed the theater was operating. Bad assumption. In fact, the entire Promenade was shut down. Car after car was entering the parking lot looking for dinner or a movie so at least we didn’t feel alone in our disappointment. We guessed that Promenade management had planned for a Sunday afternoon with something worse than cloudy skies and a steady breeze. They lost out on a lot of business though.

My first thought was to stop by the casino for a burger at Emeril’s. There was no way the casino would shut down for anything! One problem – my wife hadn’t brought her purse and ID. But surely we could get a burger, right? There are kids in the casino and restaurants so there can’t be an absolute age cutoff. Turns out it’s a bit more complicated. Even with my wife’s very youthful appearance, she’s clearly not a kid so she absolutely had to be ID’d before entering. But there’s a solution! We could get a security escort to and from the restaurant. OK. That’s awkward. But we’re hungry. Let’s do it. Enter buzzkill escort guard to explain that she can only take us to the Irish pub or Emeril’s Chop House. Huh?! There are ostensibly no differences between those places and Emeril’s burger joint – each serves alcohol and opens to the casino floor. Whatever.

Onto Plan C – a swing through Bethlehem to find food. We climbed Main St. looking for an open restaurant and noticed an Italian place on the right and the Brew Works on the left. Good enough. We circled the block and found a spot off Main St. As we walked up Main toward the Brew Works, we passed the Italian place we’d spotted but I dismissed it partly based on the name, Mama Nina’s Foccacheria. The focaccia emphasis gave me the impression they offered mostly sandwiches. Plus the place looked packed to the gills. A guy standing by the door in casual clothes told us we had to try this place. “It’s awesome!,” he exclaimed and gestured to some seats all the way at the back of the restaurant. Wow, what an enthusiastic endorsement from a guy who clearly eats here a lot. OK, let’s try it. Then the guy grabs two menus and leads us to the table! So we got snookered. This had better be “awesome” or this whole afternoon would be a bust.

Well, we loved it. We were immediately served a big dish of fresh baked rolls smothered in olive oil and fresh garlic, plus 2 complimentary glasses of wine. My wife chose one of the specials – Maryland blue crab ravioli. And I went for the “Tour of Mama Nina”– chicken parm, a meatball, sausage, and eggplant rollatini on spaghetti – to try a variety of menu items. We hadn’t brought the camera as we weren’t planning on dining out, but everything looked great. Home style piled-high portions and great flavor. The atmosphere was energetic and comfortable even though the place was pretty tightly packed. (I’m not sure if this is typical or due to the few number of operating restaurants thanks to Irene.) The prices are good – though some of the specials were pricey esp. if they included seafood.

We finished up and, hauling substantial leftovers, emerged onto beautifully sunlit Main St. Bethlehem. Thank you, Mama Nina, for a great end to a cloudy weekend.

I had a bit of email dialogue with Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn, authors of Charcuterie, to try to solve a problem with my first batch of saucisson sec. The flavor, color, and texture were great. But most of the links had air pockets running through their centers. On each of the three pieces below, you can see how the fibers stretch across the gap, as though the denser areas on either side of the gap pulled away from each other as the top and bottom collapsed inward.

Brian felt strongly that my auger-style sausage stuffer (a KitchenAid attachment) was introducing air into the sausage. He recommended switching to a plunger-style model or pressing the links like one would press sopressata. Since part of my reason for starting charcuterie (and cheese- and winemaking) is to save money, I don’t think i’m going to shell out for a $200 stuffer. I’ll keep my eye on Craigslist though.

Having used the KitchenAid stuffer a few times, I’m stubbornly convinced I’m not introducing air into the sausage. Trying to be scientific about it, I’ve made a second batch, changing only one aspect of my process. The sausages shown above were cured in 25-30% humidity, and I should have had it near 70% for the first week to slow down the drying. I really didn’t think it would be a problem with such small-diameter links.

I hesitate to set up the humidifier in such a small room in case I overdo it, so I’ve set up several large buckets of water and have been misting the room and the links several times a day and have been able to get the humidity to 50%. They’ve been hanging for a week and don’t seem to be shrinking quite as quickly as the previous batch. And no mold from the excess moisture so that’s good. I added a splash of vinegar to the spray bottle to keep the pH down and inhibit any undesirable microbes.

I’ve also started a nice piece of Bresaola. It will be in the fridge for another week before I hang it. The diameter is closer to 3 inches, so I’ll have to get the humidity up near 70% to prevent case hardening.

Weighed the cheeks today and they’ve each lost about 15% of their weight after hanging for 6 days. I also made 12 links of saucisson sec, a basic French dry sausage, on Saturday night. Simply seasoned with black peppercorns and garlic, Ruhlman describes it as tasting “like the French countryside.” Sold.

Far and away the best food value on Kaua’i was the stuff we got from roadside carts and stands. We had a couple nice dinners at higher end restaurants but they really weren’t that memorable. Really we had the most fun during the day, hitting beaches, sightseeing and building up our appetites. Our on-the-road meals simply became enmeshed with the rest of the amazing experiences we accumulated, and trying every roadside stand we came across became another “must do” before being exiled to the mainland.

In Hanalei Bay on the North Shore you’ll find Pat’s Taqueria. Their tacos and burritos are good enough to make the pages of Food & Wine and Time magazines.

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Along the South Shore, we stumbled upon this tent on our last day. Burritos to the left and sausages to the right. I’d just eaten a big plate of tacos but i still grabbed a spinach and garlic dog with mango salsa.

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The parking lot near Tunnels Beach gets a lot of traffic so it’s a good spot to set up a stand. Grabbed an organic banana bread with macadamia nuts from this friendly woman. The round gentleman behind us was selling coconuts (with straws inserted for drinking) out of the back of his pickup truck.

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We didn’t get all of our food out of strangers’ cars though. Tropical Taco in Hanalei was a favorite (and we aways knew where it was parked). We hit it right after a 7-hour hike on the Na Pali coast. Glorious.

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And one of the few bright spots on the South Shore were the shrimp tacos at the Shrimp Station. Seriously, the South Shore is a desert. Spicy shrimp weren’t exactly at the top of my wishlist in that climate, but they were damn tasty.

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We finally got our butts outta bed a couple Saturdays ago to hit the Easton Farmers’ Market for the first time this season. It’s a nice walk down College Hill for us and the dog and it’s a great opportunity to buy locally produced foods. We generally try to grab breakfast on the way to the market – either at the Quadrant Book Mart or the Third Street Café. As good as the food is at the Quadrant, it can be a bit chaotic and tough to get a table. Third Street Café’s food is great and the service is tight. Plus, compared to the Quadrant, the sidewalk seating is more generous and gets full shade on hot summer days – two good things when we have our pup with us.

Their menu is a bit more gourmet than your standard breakfast fare, but don’t worry – there’s nothing too exotic and the portions are great. And they have a number of specials in addition to the core menu. My wife had an artichoke and cheddar omelet and I had tender scrambled eggs with sausage and sausage gravy on biscuits. Both dishes came with sides of soft breakfast potatoes flavored with a peppery sauce. I’m used to a crispier, greasier style of homefries, but these were a nice change of pace (though I still prefer crispier potatoes as a contrast to soft eggs). It was all great. And filling – we could barely finish everything.

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To drink, my wife enjoyed some coffee while i had a strawberry smoothie – a good one, not a syrupy premixed sugar shake. They have an assortment of fruit and will mix you up whatever combo you like. I think they have music every Saturday for breakfast. On this day there was a guitarist – really pleasant and not obtrusive.

All in all, it was a really nice way to start our Saturday. We headed over to the farmers’ market and grabbed a local wine, some cookies and a cherry pie, and a pork loin roast before the hike back up the hill. Then… nap time.

The plan was to hit Valenca the other Friday night, but we pushed it to Saturday. Then the weather was so nice that we chose to hang in the yard and throw a couple burgers on the grill. Sunday would be it. But we sorta remembered Valenca being closed on Sundays? Sogo would be our fallback just in case.

Parked on 3rd near our old apartment and found Valenca to be open as we entered the square. The patio tables were tempting, but the sun was setting and the temp was already borderline too cold. We grabbed an indoor table by the window and stared at the menus for a while before our server showed up. The service has definitely been my biggest problem with Valenca. It’s easily the weakest of any of the better downtown restaurants. We’ve been there about 5 times, and obviously haven’t encountered every server, but there always seems to be something lacking. And it’s not like any of our visits have been during peak hours, so that excuse doesn’t apply.

Sunday was no different. Maybe 10-20% full. Our server took our drink order – had to get the red sangria– and then strangely asked us if we wanted any “entrées.” I figured he meant “appetizers” so I ordered the flambéed Portugese sausage. He paused and awaited more input. Umm…ok let’s just order our entrées too i guess. I got the salmon and my wife combined a salad with the steamed clams appetizer, asking to have them together as her entrée.

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The sangria took a while to arrive, but it was goooood. We noticed the table next to us ordered the sausage as well. Turned out it was mine and it went to the wrong table. It came our way after the brief confusion, joined by my wife’s salad – the one she wanted as her entrée. When all of the grappa burned off, the sausage was moved to a dish and sliced before coming my way. It was fantastic. Make sure you have some bread to soak up the juices. My wife didn’t mind having the salad early… but it was another one of those little things.

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The roasted salmon was served with crisp green beans and flavorful mashed potatoes – nothin fancy, but really good. The littlenecks’ white wine broth had “a lot of butter” – not sure if that was good or bad.

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I had half of my meal wrapped so i could save room for dessert. I’d wanted ice cream earlier that day but the coffee/gelato shop on College Hill was sand gelato for another week-and-a-half. WTF? It’s always killed me that people don’t think anyone eats ice cream between October and April… but i’ll save that rant for another day.

I ordered the dark chocolate cake with canoli filling, and i convinced my wife to get the chocolate hazelnut ice cream. Cake and ice cream is a perfect combo. We dug in so fast we forgot to take a pic. Oops.

We had 2 full glasses of sangria remaining even after dessert. I’d guess you get about 6 glasses in a $21 pitcher. Good deal. Definitely one of Valenca’s good points – in addition to the decor, the large patio area, free valet parking, and many unique menu options. They just need to take a few lessons from Ocean and Sette Luna on how to run a tighter ship.

The other Friday we decided to grab dinner on the way home from work. Half of our drive is on rt. 80 and the rest is on 611 through mostly farmland, so our options are pretty limited. Mt. Bethel has the greatest concentration of choices including an amazing bakery that i’ll have to post about sometime soon. We called ahead to Teresa’s Pizza Cucina and Cantina for a pie with lots of veggies plus sausage. They recently rebuilt the place after what was apparently their second fire. Used to be called Doughboys i believe – but that was before we’d ever been through Mt. Bethel. Not sure if Doughboys food was good, but Teresa’s definitely makes a good pizza (wood-fired oven, natch). The thinly cut sausage is a nice touch, as opposed to feeble crumbles or Papa John’s mass-produced spheroids.

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