Tag Archives: olive oil

Wesleyan Foodstock 2012

Please enjoy a recap of a fun event I attended that completely deserves its own post…despite the fact that it was over a month ago. Check out more of my latest adventures here and here!

For the first time ever, Wesleyan University in Middletown, CT hosted a brand-new (and free!) event called Foodstock. Take one look at the list of speakers and you’ll see why I was so excited to attend – and learn.

Props to whoever designed the event logo…very hippie-esque.

You also may notice that this event took place back on Saturday 5/5…oops. That was right around the time of my Fitfluential adventures, and life has been go-go-go since that week, so I haven’t had a chance to share my Foodstock experience! But despite the fact that it’s been over a month since that educational day, I want to write about this because I left campus feeling truly thankful to Wesleyan for putting on the kind of event I never dreamed I’d be able to attend after just a fairly short car ride.

Ruth Reichl and Faith Middleton

I attended with Bethany of More Fruit Please (she lives about 5 minutes from me!) and we arrived just in time to catch WNPR’s Faith Middleton interviewing Ruth Reichl, the highly accomplished Editorial Adviser to Gilt Taste (and former food critic and Gourmet Magazine Editor-in-Chief). She’s also written four memoirs, which have gone on my Goodreads to-read list, of course. Despite the fact that I am an NPR fanatic as of this past winter, I had never listened to Faith’s show before. I really loved her conversational, laid-back interview style and the way she carried herself, with such confidence, grace, and intelligence. She and Ruth discussed the great inequality that exists between classes in America when it comes to the way people eat. A story was told of a woman Ruth knew who lived on food stamps for a period to see what it was like, and reached a point at which she was crying in the middle of the grocery store, weighing a sweet potato and realizing that despite the fact that her body was craving its nutrients, she simply did not have enough money to buy it. I don’t remember everything Faith and Ruth talked about, but I certainly remember that.

Eric Asimov and Faith Middleton

Next, Faith interviewed Eric Asimov, chief wine critic at The New York Times (and a Wesleyan alum). This was one of my favorite sessions of the whole day (hello, wino). Eric has such a passion for wines and a lot of his conversation with Faith resonated with me. I wanted to just jump on stage and join in! He spoke of local neighborhood wine shops and losing them and the associated experience to the big box liquor stores (hello, I love you, Sonoma), and savoring wine and food pairings, and how some people out there are way too snobby about wine and scare others away from drinking it and trying different kinds.

Luckily, I got the chance to speak with Eric about all this after the interview wrapped up! I also was able to walk up to the stage after the session’s end and shake Faith’s hand. She has a whole show about food called Food Schmooze and is even hosting a Martini Competition at the end of this month! It looks like an amazing event, with tons of CT restaurants and their mixologists participating. I like how there is a lower price for DDs!

Some of the students on the planning committee thanked us for coming before we broke into our “lunch break”. There was a designated period during which no sessions were running, so that local vendors and food trucks could serve up lunch and patrons wouldn’t have to worry about missing any speakers. Bethany made the local vendors gathered in Wesleyan’s student union, Usdan, our first stop.


Cutest magnets!

Adorable kitchen goodies.

These vinegars and oils from The Kitchen Store were so tasty.

I sampled some of the olive oils on bread and purchased a baby bottle of the garlic-infused flavor, of course!

Check out this amazingness from Nora Cupcake Co!

Sticky Nuts were there. As in an edible kind. Is it sad that I didn’t get the innuendo behind this company’s name until Rachel responded to something I tweeted from the event about them? I was a bit afraid of what would happen when I Googled them just now to get their website’s link.

The PB Fig flavor was so amazing!

There was the smallest farmers’ market in the world going on outside the student union (I believe it was an awkward between-spring-and-summer-season weekend), but there were still a few troopers out there.

Perk on Main had a crepes station set up.

They also offered breakfast burritos for those who wanted savory.

Some really talented musicians serenading us, and the pastries under that tent.

Urban Oaks Organic Farm of New Britain, CT.

They sold edible flowers!

In one of the campus parking lots nearby, a bunch of food trucks had gathered – it was such a cool concept, like mixing a food truck fest into a food learning fest! Hmm..what to choose?

Mamoun’s of New Haven (I’d had their turkish coffee before while waiting to sober up…but hadn’t had their food, ha)

The Whey Station had a huge line!

Loved the colors on Lucky Taco‘s menu.

Munchie’s of New London, CT

An oven that looked straight out of a restaurant!

Aw! The Good Humor man! #throwback

An option I seriously contemplated, Ethiopian from Lalibela!

I was having a hard time deciding between the Ethiopian food (above) that I’d never tried before, and the famous falafel (a food I already know and love) of Mamoun’s that I’d heard so much about. I ended up going with a falafel pita, and Bethany got a gyro after The Whey Station line proved to be moving too slowly. Oh man it was amazing – the best falafel I’ve ever had! Bethany put together the below “montage” for me 🙂

Bethany enjoyed her gyro as well!

Legit, the wrap was as big as my head.

Totally dripped tzatziki sauce on my $13 Wal-Mart shoes while waiting for the next session to begin – fail! Good thing they were, well, $13 from Wal-Mart. Oh, the shopping I did at 1AM at the 24 hour location near campus in my UConn days.


Bethany decided to attend a different session than I did after lunch, so we parted ways and I sat in on a lecture/Q&A called “Writing So They Can Taste It” (do you see why this one jumped out at me?) with Molly O’Neill, a food writer and online food writing instructor. Molly’s sassy personality and to-the-point advice made the session so rewarding to me. I raised my hand and commented that I feel like I use the same adjectives over and over again when I’m blogging about restaurants, events, and meals. Molly laughed and said she’d heard that before – and that I’m right, I need to stop using adjectives like “delicious”. I so wish I had the extra cash to spend on some of Molly’s virtual courses – or in my dream land, cash to spend and vacation time to use on Cook n Scribble’s retreat to Alaska.

Throughout the presentation, photos from One Big Table, a book project to “create a portrait of America at the table”, flashed in the background.

Molly passed out a handout titled “Why Write About Food?”, which listed quotes that answered that very question. Some of my favorites:

  • “‘What’s good to eat around here?’ tends to go over better than ‘Had any good sex lately?'” – Matthew Amster-Burton
  • “The discovery of a new dish does more for the happiness of mankind than the discovery of a new star.” – Anthelme Brillat-Savarin (um, I agree)
  • “Food makes it possible to tell stories that can be difficult to tell (especially family ones).” – Anne Bramley
  • “You can write about anything while appearing to write about food. You can change the world…” – Molly O’Neill herself
  • “I feel powerless when I read most stories about the environment and politics and the economy, but when these subjects are framed by food, they still touch a raw nerve, but they can leave me energized and convinced that I can make a significant contribution.” – Simona Carini

Her lecture was extremely helpful and had several main messages:

  • It’s essentially not possible to make a living as a food writer right now, so if you’re going into it, be prepared to do something else as well. Be prepared to keep trying, to get rejected a LOT, and to constantly have to put effort in to even make a partial career of it. (May seem bleak, but I like her honesty.)
  • The world of new media (blogs, Twitter, etc) creates amazing opportunities and outlets for food writing. But again, the revenue is the problem. It works as a hobby, and is nearly impossible as a full-time career.
  • All food writers had to work another job to start. A lot of them still do. Accept that you will have to! And try to make the other job(s) somehow useful toward the food writing career, even if they give you something as nearly-unrelated as negotiating skills or plenty of free corporate lunches at fabulous restaurants 😉

Kashia Cave kicked us off.

After Molly’s wonderful presentation, I met up with Bethany again back in the student union to learn about The Business of Food from people who have made food their business, but in different ways.

Arturo Franco-Carmacho, one half of a restaurant-owning couple.

  • Kashia Cave founded My City Kitchen and even brought two of her students with her that day. She started out as a businesswoman, and still is, though she ended up creating a non-profit organization due to financial constraints. Her aim is to help kids learn healthy eating habits, channel creativity through cooking, and take pride in the food they eat.
  • Arturo and Suzette Franco-Carmacho ran restaurants in New Haven and currently run Tacuba Taco Bar and Swill Wine Bar, both located in Branford, CT.
  • Josh Goldin, a Wesleyan alum, co-founded Alliance Consumer Growth. This investor group finances healthy food and drink products from aspiring vendors, like the ones I’d spoken with earlier that day and the ones at CT Veg Fest.

Josh invests in the kinds of products you see in Whole Foods.

I can’t imagine being a restaurant owner, let alone being one with my husband! Suzette had some stories to tell and insights to share on being parents and running a restaurant. Imagine explaining to your daughter that a day in NYC for her birthday likely wouldn’t work because it’d have to be on a Saturday, due to school, and the restaurant just cannot be left on those kinds of days. These are the little things that we as consumers do not see! Josh’s job sounds so interesting to me. I’d love to help passionate people that just want to spread their healthy products to others, like the folks I spoke with at the Coventry Farmers’ Market and CT Veg Fest. Of course Josh also has to look for those who can make a profit, but it’s hard to make that balanced call. For example, his company passed on Zico! Oops! They’ve still had success with Plum Organics and Evol, both of which I’ve heard of (except Evol’s burrito was listed as the “not that” in Women’s Health’s “Eat This, Not That” feature – oops again!)

As accomplished as all the above mentioned speakers are, I was honestly most impressed by Jacob Eichengreen, the manager of Wesleyan’s student-run cafe, Espwesso, and a current Wesleyan student.

Interior of Espwesso.

The non-profit cafe is NOT run through Wesleyan Dining Services, and as a result the university does not allow them to be open during “peak” hours, so that all on-campus cafe needs are forced to be funneled into Wesleyan’s cafes. Therefore, Espwesso is only open from 6pm-12am, but they get packed! I can totally see myself studying there in the evenings during my college career.

Now that is a right price!

For Foodstock, Espwesso was able to make a rare appearance in the world of daytime operations. I’m so very glad because that meant I got the chance to try a cup of their locally roasted drip coffee – for only $1! Since the labor is provided through work study, Espwesso can offer high quality coffee at a low price.

I asked for my coffee with a splash of steamed skim milk, and Jacob himself (acting barista for the day), happily provided me just that – except the milk was anything but “splashed” into the cup.

Beautiful! Espwesso trains all its baristas in the art of coffee-making. They all receive a coffee education and go through training and tutorials to foster a true appreciation for the drink.

Jacob, about ready to get things going.

Attendees of “The Laptop and the Coffee Cup” had the chance to receive a similar coffee education from Jacob; he used a modified version of the training Power Point shown to his new baristas.

Added bonus – he also set out two different kinds of coffee for taste testing/comparisons. I drank both black and it was honestly some of the best coffee I’d ever had. I couldn’t get over it and had to go back for more. This occasion called for the breaking of my one-cup-a-day rule.

My favorite, from Supreme Bean Roasters in LA. Boo, I wanted to go buy this coffee somewhere local and take it home!

Darker roast from Klekolo World Coffee, right down the street.

I sat back and learned more than I ever thought possible in 45 minutes about my favorite bean (yes, I will declare coffee my favorite bean, even above the beloved black bean).

Just like all other food and drink, coffee seems to be LOADED with certifications and symbols. Some are legit, some are purely profit-driven. Just look at them all!

Did you know coffee is one of the most highly traded commodities in the world, right after oil? And that when coffee is decaffeinated, a LITTLE bit of the taste is sacrificed? But not so much that someone would really notice…and check out all the different stages of the coffee bean!!

A bit of a heated debate broke out after an attendee would not stop arguing against the points (good ones, in my opinion) Jacob made regarding why Espwesso doesn’t roast its own beans. I mean…they’re a student run cafe in the corner of an academic building, only allowed to be open 6 hours a day, opertaing on a limited budget and with a restricted amount of work study hours for staff. I’m not really sure why this man expected Espwesso to not only sell locally roasted coffee and improve coffee education among its employees and patrons, but also roast their own coffee and change much of their current operations to do so. I raised my hand several times during the exchange and defended Espwesso – I just wanted them to know how much I appreciate what they’re trying to do on the Wesleyan campus! I certainly think that a huge school like UConn could use a cafe like that. Trying to take on too much by adding coffee roasting would probably hurt the small cafe more than help. This entire session and discussion definitely made me miss my days as the assistant manager of a cafe at UConn.

Of course we got a photo in Espwesso with our coffee!

Bethany and I met up after our last sessions (she’d attended “Writing the  American Road”, about a couple that hit the road to tour restaurants and wrote about it) to walk back to our cars. It was a great day and I learned so much! I’m really grateful to Wesleyan for putting on Foodstock for free and educating CT residents on food writing, eating local, the business of food, coffee, and more!

Would you have been interested in attending any of these sessions?

Am I the only one who missed the innuendo behind the product name for Sticky Nuts?

Are you a Faith Middleton fan?

Mohegan Sun WineFest: The Food

In case you didn’t see, fellow FitFluential Ambassador Christine of Oatmeal in my Bowl made a pretty exciting announcement on Saturday that has a little something to do with me, so I suggest you check it out!

I am going to have to split my recap of this event into several posts – that’s how much fun I have to share with you all. Without further ado, please read on to find out what I ATE at Mohegan Sun WineFest 2012!

EDIT: I completed my Sun WineFest recaps, and you can also read about what I drank and the Oyster Open competition.

Oh my goodness. WHAT a day it was at the 2012 Mohegan SunWine Fest. It was totally worth all the build up. This morning I woke up nice and early (went to bed at about 9:30 or 10 last night…it felt so fantastic), went to Step (where I felt like I was going to die, for some reason), and got homework done at Daybreak with some Toasted Butternut coffee. Once home, I laid out all my “equipment” to ensure that I was prepared.

Purse, vendor list, notebook with pen, waters, cam, and IBUPROFEN.

Elliott of Sonoma Wines & Spirits was kind enough to mark up my lists of wine, beer, and spirits vendors to give me hints on where I should concentrate my “tasting efforts”. He highlighted in pink the “must-tries”, but I did end up getting to try everything he marked, even those that weren’t highlighted (and were only starred).

See the pink "must-try" highlighting?

 I was SO glad that I brought my own large bag with me – it was so useful during the tasting to hold all of the business cards, fliers, and pamphlets I received, along with my camera case and purse.

This dork is ready to roll.

I arrived, parked seemingly the farthest I could possibly park from the Convention Center, and made a beeline for the food token line once I was through the doors.

I was super hungry for lunch and knew I should get some food in my stomach before I started drinking! The line was a bit long but I had plenty to look at while I waited.

Gorgeous chandelier!

The food tickets were only $1/token and the proceeds were going to charity, so I didn’t mind paying $20 for 20 tokens. I only ended up not using three of them (I know, I was surprised I had any left over too).

Wine glasses, ready for the taking.

The wine glasses were very generously sized and the programs provided for guests were very helpful, with maps of numbered booths for both floors (beers were upstairs). There were also pens free for the taking.

I strolled inside and gravitated to the first food booth I saw! I was pleased to see it was from a local vendor.

Another fantastic relish, like my fave Mariah’s Chow Chow Relish, to add to my grocery list! Webber’s Original Pepper Relish is offered in mild, medium, and hot varieties. I tried the medium on a Tostitos Scoop chip. Looking back, I wish I’d bought a jar! It’d be easy to do so though, since Warren’s Foods is located in West Hartford. The relishes are gluten free, and just fifteen calories per tablespoon, making them a great option for flavoring meats or dipping crackers or chips at parties.

I next sampled extra virgin olive oil on crusty Italian bread at Aralia Olive Oils and was very impressed. The EVOO’s flavor was really something to appreciate and savor. I could definitely tell this was a higher quality EVOO than the stuff in my pantry at home!

The next booth was one of my favorites of the entire WineFestBrix Chocolate and their chocolate-and-wine pairings. Yes, that’s right, chocolate and wine! The chocolate was lined up from milk to extra dark, and each was listed with recommended pairings for types of wines. The nice girls at the booth told me that I was supposed to eat the chocolate, swallow it, and then sip the wine. Each pairing was sooo good, but my favorite was the extra dark chocolate.

Milk chocolate with Pinot Noir.

The suggested pairings were as follows:

  • Milk chocolate (40% cacao), pairs with: port, ice wine, rose, pinot noir
  • Smooth dark chocolate (54% cacao), pairs with: champagne, riesling, pinot noir, vintage port
  • Medium dark chocolate (60% cacao), pairs with: zinfandel, merlot, shiraz
  • Extra dark chocolate (70% cacao, my fave), pairs with: cabernet sauvignon, bordeaux, barola

And I officially want to spend Valentine’s Day holding a gourmet chocolate-and-wine tasting now. Single ladies, join me?

I always enjoy Cabot Creamery’s samples when I have the chance to try them at events. Their cheese is so wonderful!

A Classic Cheddar and a Pepper Jack.

My favorite cheeses from Cabot were actually those not pictured – Chipotle Cheddar and Hot Habenero. Both had the perfect amount of kick!

igourmet.com also had some delicious cheese offerings! The Aged Cheddar pictured below was fantastic. I also sampled a gentle, young Bleu Cheese. igourmet.com was a big part of the Sun WineFest – they sponsored the special Seminar Series that I mentioned in my lead-up post to the festival.

Even vendors not typically in the business of food were giving out food! A company giving away (and selling) Cayman Islands vacation packages had authentic rum bread. It was quite sweet (just one piece was enough for me) but a delicious new food that I was excited to try!

I used my first three food tokens at Pete & Gerry’s Organic Eggs of Monroe, NH. Their booth was very well set-up and I loved the addition of cracked eggs in the little bowls below, so that visitors could see just how high-quality the yolks of Pete & Gerry’s heirloom eggs are. The hens are all Certified Humane (the first farm in the country with this status, in fact) and every egg is shipped the morning after it is gathered, and remains chilled at 45 degrees from farm to dairy case. These particular eggs contain high levels of omega-3 fatty acids, since the hens are fed organic flax seeds as part of their diet. Even the egg cartons are made from 100% recycled materials! Something I didn’t know – the white eggs come from Ameraucana hens and the brown come from Marans hens!

I want those bowls!

Pete & Gerry’s food offering was well worth those three tokens – a raspberry egg custard made from their eggs, topped with homemade whipped cream and a raspberry garnish. This custard was out of this world. Not too sweet, with a pure flavor. I could tell that this custard was made from some pretty special eggs! I wasn’t a big fan of the raspberry jelly on the bottom of the cup, but was glad that it stuck to the bottom so that I could enjoy the custard (and whipped cream…) in its own glory. You can find recipes on the Pete & Gerry’s website, including one for a chocolate version of the custard!

You can tell that whipped cream is homemade!

Jasper White’s Summer Shack had quite an impressive raw bar line-up! I didn’t get anything from this booth because I’m actually attending an event tonight at Max Fish in which oysters are the stars, but the presentation was very nice and perfect for photos!

Oh yum!

I saw many plates in the ballroom filled with oysters – they seemed to be a hit!

Love their motto – "food is love".

One of the Mohegan Sun Summer Shack’s shuckers was multi-tasking by shucking oysters for guests AND practicing for the soon-to-come 8th Annual Oyster Open.

Next I headed over to the booth of Esca Wine Bar of Middletown, where I saw and tasted by far the most unique food offering of the entire WineFest – a lobster cappuccino!

I had a chance to talk with its creator and find out exactly what the lobster cappuccino was made of – a lot of you were curious when I was tweeting about it! It turns out it’s made with fortified lobster stocklecithin, 2% milk, and heavy cream, among other ingredients. The orange mix above went in the bottom of a little cup, and then was topped with the white foam. The flavor was amazing! I could not believe that the foamy drink I was about to consume would taste like lobster, but then it did – it was EXACTLY the flavor one would expect from a lobster dish. My compliments to the chef for creating such a unique dish!


Esca is really a diamond in the rough, located on the recently-revived Main Street of Middletown, CT. That area continues to impress me with its restaurant and nightlife offerings – first Mondo, and now a sophisticated wine bar with excellent food, an endless wine list, classy cocktails, and Thursday Happy Hour til 10pm! You may have seen me tweeting up a storm about it when I was there this past Thursday. I can’t wait to go back again soon with my mom. I know she’d LOVE it there.

Flavored cheesecakes, and some very classy napkins!

At this point I started sampling beverages…but that’s going to come in Wednesday’s post. For now, I’m skipping to my next food experience, which was much needed as I started feeling the alcohol’s effects! If I was going to drive home safely, I needed to take a break and get some food in my belly. Enter Plan B

Ah, the Leaning Tower of Burger!

I wasn’t sure what that cornucopia of veggies on the table display was all about. It didn’t really fit well with the burger theme (burger tower, ketchup, mustard…) and when I go to Plan B, veggies are the last thing on my mind. In fact, I know that even if they were the first thing on my mind, I couldn’t get much of them. I’m honestly not a big fan of Plan B, unlike the rest of the CT-burger-enthusiasts out there. I think that for the quality you get, and the options for sides you are given, the food is very overpriced. I do, however, respect their cocktails, spirits, and beer list. I certainly enjoy sipping on some fig-and-vanilla-infused bourbon, don’t get me wrong.

That being said, I did enjoy the cheeseburger slider I purchased for three tokens at Plan B’s booth. My beef with sliders (ha..ha..had to do it) is that the buns are always way too big on them and overpower the meat. These were no different, with a puffy, plain bun that was nothing remarkable. The meat was, however, cooked very well and the cheese was excellent. Still didn’t make me want to go have dinner at Plan B though.

Something that did impress me? The sushi by Feng Asian Bistro. I’ve heard this place has the best sushi in CT, and wanted to try the most creative roll they offered. I’m seriously SO glad I like sushi now!

I thought 6 tokens was a little steep, but the Feng Chef Roll was extremely delicious! If only it had been made with brown rice, which I find to be so much more flavorful AND healthier. The spicy mayo and eel sauce was excellent and I enjoyed my roll with fresh ginger.


Not done with food yet, nope nope nope. After sampling some more beverages and watching the oyster shucking contest (that’ll be another separate post), I ventured back to the food vendors to use the last of my tokens. Unfortunately, it was 4:45pm and most were closing up or out of many offerings! No worries, I managed.

SolToro Tequila Grill had a lovely booth (employees were wearing sombreros with stripes that matched the tablecloth) but only had chicken tacos left. I was hoping for pork, but chicken was my next choice, and I definitely LOVED this taco. First of all, SolToro used a corn tortilla – LOVE it! Corn tortillas are to brown rice as flour tortillas are to white rice for me – so much more hearty and satisfying (and healthier). It may not look like it from the photo, but the portion of shredded chicken was pretty generous and I also loved that it was shredded, as opposed to chunks of grilled chicken, which never work as well in tacos for me. The onions were great too, and at just 2 tokens, this taco was a steal! I want to go and eat at SolToro again!

Next came a porchetta slider from Mohegan’s newest restaurant, Ballo, which I already and now DEFINITELY want to try. The menu offers a full-size version of this oven-roasted sandwich of pork, broccoli rabe, and provolone. I got my pork fix in after all (who needs it on a taco?) and was very impressed! Once again, too much bread on this slider, but its fillings were fresh enough to stand out.

Last but not least for the food…this may not be the prettiest photo in the world, but trust me when I say that this brisket with buttermilk biscuit (it’s  under there somewhere) from Esca was out of this world. I am a HUGE biscuit fan, so I ate that first, and it was so delicious soaked in all those brisket-y juices. The brisket itself was cooked perfectly and was very rich. I got such a generous portion from the kind chef there that I didn’t have room to finish it all! I wouldn’t expect awesome brisket-and-biscuits from a wine bar, but it looks like Esca can do it all!

Gonna say oh my goodness again just like I did in the beginning of this post. What a day, and that was JUST the food! I cannot wait to share the beverage portion of my experience with you all on Wednesday. I have to say though, today it feels pretty good to get back into my usual “weekday routine” after a weekend of imbibing. I am so psyched for today’s salad beast at lunch. That’s what happens after an indulgence – I tend to crave more “clean” stuff. But don’t get me wrong – I DEFINITELY enjoyed the food I ate yesterday. Mmmm.

Which of the items I sampled would you have most liked to try?

CT Wine and Food Festival

The following post has been a long time coming, but finally I’ve had a chance to write up the recap and share with you all!

A couple Saturday nights ago I had the opportunity to attend a fabulous event at a discounted price! The Arthritis Foundation put on the first ever CT Wine & Food Festival at The Hartford Club. Attendees could choose to attend Grand Tasting Session I in the afternoon, or Session II in the evening (that’s the one my fellow foodie friend Jeff and I went with). The venue itself was very classy, complete with a coat check and grand wooden staircases.

I’ve always wanted to go to an event like this and was so pleasantly surprised to find one in my own backyard – at an affordable price! The Arthritis Foundation did a great job in their first year holding the Festival and I can only hope it becomes an annual tradition.

While waiting for Jeff to meet me, I perused the brochure provided to each guest describing the vendors that were present for the evening and the schedule of chef demos. I started feeling very excited and overwhelmed as I turned page after page and realized I was still reading the list of vendors. I was also excited to see some familiar names!


Jeff and I didn’t want to be chaotic in our approach, so we decided to make a circle around each room so we wouldn’t miss anything. I also was hoping to do drinks first, and then food, since I rarely ever want to drink while I’m eating or after the fact. The first stop was at Hazlitt 1852 Vineyards, a New York winery making sangria out of their sweet Red Cat wines. The recipe was simple: Red Cat wine over ice, with a lime wedge. So delicious and easy!

I also tried a fun little science experiment at their booth. Try putting a few Godiva dark chocolate chips in your mouth, letting them chill there for about 5 seconds, and taking a sip of Hazlitt’s Bramble Berry wine. As the guy at the booth put it, I experienced a “flavor explosion”. Dark chocolate + wine = heaven! The Bramble Berry is the third bottle from the left in the photo below.

The sangria was made with the wine on the right!

I had several other specialty cocktails throughout the evening. Onyx Spirits made a drink of real CT moonshine, apple cider, nutmeg, cinnamon, and whipped cream! It was fall-fabulous. I sipped on it slowly while Jeff tried some beers, and it stayed tasty til the end thanks to the whipped cream dissolving into the beverage. Yum!

Upstairs, Hotel California Tequila made a tequila cocktail that included Godiva chocolate liquer. It was delicious, but I also couldn’t taste any tequila whatsoever. It would have been nice to know what their liquor actually tasted like!

I sipped on the best gin I’ve ever had, Bluecoat American Dry Gin on the rocks. It was unbelievably smooth with no burn whatsoever. Instead of smelling like grass, like most gins I’ve tried straight, it smelled and tasted like citrus! I loved the bottles too.

Believe it or not, I actually found a beer that I can say I liked! I can’t see myself being able to stomach a glass of it, but it was an Olde Burnside Brewing Company ale called Stone of Destiny that was nice to sip on! Low carbonation + chocolate and coffee flavors were the selling points that got me to try it – and enjoy!

I’m not a Stella drinker (my parents are), but I took a shot of this very large bottle of it because I have never seen one before – and I used to promote it at liquor stores!

There were so many wines at this event that I didn’t have room/the tolerance to try them all, but I did sip on my fair share!

I tried the Quixote red wine at this particular booth and really liked it, but there were so many wines that they all seemed the same toward the end. I can also partially attribute that sentiment to my buzz, but I do think this was a situation in which I over-tasted on wine!

Buzzed and blurry?

And what goes best with wine (aside from the dark chocolate I already mentioned)? Cheese! That’s right, bring on the…


Caseus of New Haven was sampling two delectable cheeses that Jeff and I paired with red wine from another booth. The bottom cheese of the photo was chopped too finely for my taste (I could barely pick it up with the toothpick) but it was still delicious. I really liked the top cheese in the photo the most though.

We also tried the cheese in combination with some chewy sourdough bread. And speaking of bread, more was munched on in combination with olive oils and balsamic vinegar from O’Live a Little of Evergreen Walk in South Windsor. I’ve heard so much about their store but haven’t had a chance to check it out, so doing so at this event was very convenient.

Jeff and I were given several shots – of the olive oil and balsamic variety! I was done with the alcohol shots at that point. The center balsamic vinegar in the above photo is a fig balsamic, and the one on the right was filled with flavorful herbs and was our favorite. Like I said before, there was also bread for dipping. O’Live a Little was also selling quaint gift baskets and jarred olive varieties!

Hard to tell, but that’s lasagna!

DaCapo Ristorante Italiano of Avon/Litchfield gave me a HUGE piece of lasagna – the best I’ve ever had! It was so authentic. I love my mom’s whole wheat ground turkey ricotta-less lasagna, don’t get me wrong, but this was the real stuff and it was so good. I can’t believe I drive by this place a couple of times a week whenever I go to the gym near my office, and have never noticed it!

Peppercorn’s Grill of Hartford, which Rachel and I have been meaning to attend for happy hour for a couple of weeks now, provided the above bite-sized gourmet treats. I love little tastes like this! The table provided a nice preview of what I can expect whenever I get to their happy hour. The prosciutto “sushi” was topped with sweet balsamic vinegar, and the lobster tart shells were light, flaky, and had a pleasant crunch. The lobster also tasted beyond fresh, straight out of the ocean. Honestly, it was the freshest lobster I’ve ever tasted!

What, you may wonder, is Matt Damon doing in this post? Well, nothing except not being bid on during the Festival’s silent auction. Jeff and I just thought that this autographed photo was too hilarious and random. It didn’t fit in with the gift baskets and vacation packages being auctioned off at all. Poor, lonely Matt!

Look familiar?

I ran into my buddy Phyllis Haynes and her delicious product, Mariah’s Chow Chow Relish. I was so glad to see her, because last time we met she gave me a jar of her Hot & Spicy flavor, so I had a chance to tell her how much I have been enjoying having it on my baked potato skins! I also tried the next flavor up, Hot Hot Hot, and am happy to report that I have officially graduated to that flavor. The relish’s sweetness balances the hotness out perfectly, so that even someone like me who is sensitive to spicy foods can enjoy! Since Phyllis partners with Food Should Taste Good chips when she samples her relishes, I also finally was able to try their Sweet Potato flavor. However, the relish overpowered the chip and I didn’t get a good sense of how the it tasted. No issues with that – the relish is the star after all – but I hope to try the sweet potato chips again soon on their own!

How to-die-for does this dessert look? The Hartford Club Executive Chef Chris Kube‘s sweet, fall-inspired creations were my favorite part of the entire Wine & Food Fest! Jeff and I enjoyed chatting with Chris about his experiences exploring the restaurants of different cities he’s lived in (DC and NYC), and we pretty much lavished him with compliments as we moaned (in a good way) over his desserts.

The above item was my very, very favorite: pumpkin soup with cranberry and goat cheese biscotti. Pure pumpkin, sweet but subtle cranberries, crunchy biscotti, and savory goat cheese were an absolute match made in heaven. One of the best things I’ve ever eaten!


Throughout the evening, demos called Grand Tastings were scheduled in which various celebrity chefs whipped up some of their specialties, and then shared the results with some eager taste testers (AKA us). Jeff and I only caught a couple of these demos, but I enjoyed how they ran throughout the night so that whenever we stopped by the Grand Tasting area, there was almost always something happening or about to happen!

Chef Adam Greenberg of Barcelona – West Hartford!

The angled mirror above the demo cooking area provided every guest with a great view. Adam Greenberg of Barcelona in West Hartford whipped up some tasty scallops for us!

And for (another) dessert, Mike Elder (you may know him from TLC’s “Ultimate Cake-Off – he’s won three times!) demo-ed his cake decorating skills by showing us how he created some mice to put on top of his cheese-wedge cake!

Check out the barrel in the above photo – that’s a cake! The detail was so impressive. It’s hard to see, but in the photo, Mike is “spray-painting” one of the little mice he made to put on the other cake (pictured below).

It wouldn’t be a proper post without a photo of me awkwardly posing with food.

Check out the little mice! The cake itself, beyond the decor, was a “Wal-Mart cake” (Mike’s words, not mine). He jokingly kept telling us not to judge the taste of the cake itself for that reason! I am happy to report that Wal-Mart makes a good cake, and however sad it was to see the creation divvied up, I thoroughly enjoyed my slice.

I saved the most blog-related portion of this post for last, because it features something I’ve seen all over the place in the blog world: the Vita-Mix!

A rep in a headset whipped up several recipes for us, and I was definitely impressed by the Vitamix’s power! It’s way out of my price range, and I don’t really blend anything anyway, but I still enjoyed experiencing first-hand some food made in the blender that’s so loved by so many of my favorite bloggers!

Freshly-made peanut butter, with bananas and celery for dipping!

The PB pictured above was fab. I only got one bit of banana though, because I dropped the rest of my portion on the ground – dammit, wine! Celery was a subpar replacement for dipping, but the PB was wonderful enough that it wouldn’t matter what I was dipping into it. We also tried sorbet, a fruit smoothie, and tortilla soup! Out of everything though, my heart lay with the PB – it always wins in the end!

So there you have it: my trip to the first CT Wine & Food Festival was a great success, and I can only hope that it becomes an annual event. It looks like the Arthritis Foundation had a great turnout and raised money for their cause!

Have you ever been to a wine and food tasting? Which item that I wrote about would you most want to try?