Wednesday, August 11, 2010

How I Spent My Summer Vacation...

...aka eating my way through Portland ME.
It's been a long time since I've taken a true vacation, so when we finally got the opportunity to go away this summer there was only one thing I wanted to do - eat!
I've been to Portland Maine about 5 times now and every time we've run out of meals before we come close to trying every place on our list. This time we decided to rent a condo and stay for a week which still isn't enough time to try everything, but we did our best. I tried to take pictures of everything, but a few (OK a bunch) of times I was so excited to eat I dug in completely forgetting about the photo op. Since pictures of half eaten food tend to look disgusting, I had to skip those.

We got into town in late afternoon which was perfect timing for a drink by the water before dinner. Ironically our own waterfront in Philly is a place I never venture due to the large quantities of d-bags and tourists, yet I'm always happy to be a tourist in someone else's city. Go figure... So we headed for the Porthole and had a drink on the deck. We decided to skip the "Nderful Food" and instead went to an old time favorite Norm's Bar & Grill. Norm's is the kind of place I'd go a lot if I lived in Portland. I love the mashed potatoes and the cornbread which I realize isn't exactly a balanced meal, but that's what's good about being a grown-up - you can call that dinner.

The place we stayed was literally across the street from Coffee By Design which is another Portland treasure. We went there almost every morning for delicious coffee and an incredible assortment of locally made pastries. This was definitely a contender for best cheese danish ever! One day we opted for brunch instead and tried Local 188 which we had gone to years ago in a smaller location across the street. The new space is beautiful and I had one of the best pancakes of my life. It's kind of like skillet cornbread with blueberries. Super thick in the center with a crispy edge, topped with whipped butter and a sprig of mint. Sadly it's listed only as "Pancake" on the menu. They could definitely do a better job of selling it!

Going to Maine and not getting a lobster roll is like going to Philly and not getting a cheese steak (although I actually recommend getting a hoagie over a cheese steak since most of them are awful) so we tried two different ones. One was at a super touristy place on the water called the Portland Lobster Company where we ordered a lobster roll and a crabmeat roll so we could try more than one thing. Next time I'd stick with two lobster rolls - it was a lot tastier.

The second place we tried was Morse's Lobster Shack in Brunswick which took over a 50's style drive in with car hop service. The waitresses will still bring orders to your car, only not on roller skates anymore. They offered a hot or cold lobster roll, so of course we tried one of each. The hot was sauteed in garlic butter, while the cold had just a touch of mayo. Hot was the winner - you can't beat melted butter on lobster.

We read a lot of opinions about the best pizza, and we figured we'd see for ourselves. We tried 3 different places, and I'm still kicking myself for running out of room at a fourth. We had been to Flatbread before which has a fantastic location on the water, and super fresh ingredients. Bonobo Pizza is a newer contender that some say is even better. We tried a half Talleggio with roasted tomato, leeks and arugula and half Margherita with tomato, fresh mozzarella and basil. The flavor was amazing, and the crust was delicious, but the only downside was too much oil. With less it would have been perfect. The third place we tried was Otto Pizza which kept coming up when we asked locals where to eat. A bunch of people told me I needed to try the mashed potato and bacon slice and it was every bit as good as it sounds.

Portland has a crazy amount of higher end restaurants and we wanted to try some of those too. The culture of using farm fresh local ingredients is everywhere and it was hard to choose among so many incredible menus. We tried The Corner Room for dinner and The Front Room for lunch. At The Corner Room we had an amazing cold seafood sampler that included squid, shrimp, octopus, clams, and smoked mussels. We tried the gnocchi with kale & smoked mozzarella (Yum!) and the Mac & Cheese (OK, but not my favorite version). I would definitely go back again and try some more of the menu. The house smoked salmon bagel sandwich at The Front Room was delicious.

The one restaurant we've heard about since our first trip to Portland 13 years ago is Fore Street. We kind of suck at planning ahead and making reservations, so we never even tried to go thinking there was no way we'd get in. Thanks to the really nice guy from Eli Phant (definitely go to this boutique - they have a great assortment of handmade products, many by local artists) we were tipped off that if we got there just before 5 when the bar opened we could get a seat in the lounge, or put our name in for one of the tables they keep for walk-ins. What we didn't know is that once the doors open the line is only for dining room reservations, and we wanted to eat in the lounge. People bum rushed the bar stools and they were full in about 3 seconds. Fortunately we got lounge seats and had an incredible dinner. My cocktail of choice for the evening was fresh grapefruit juice with vodka, candied ginger and some other infused things I wouldn't be able to recreate at home (though I would pay money for this recipe). We ordered 6 appetizers so we could try as much as possible. The flavors were amazing! Pictured is a tomato tart with goat cheese on puff pastry, some kind of squid dish, and crab salad with sweet corn panna cotta and a tomato & corn side that transcended tomatoes & corn. Round two had mussels with bread from their bakery, quail (which I realized is not my favorite member of the bird family) and fingerling potatoes.

Dessert was house made pepper ice cream and a chocolate & vanilla bean torte and caramel sauce. I was ridiculously full.

On our last day we took the ferry to Peaks Island and rented bikes. The views from the perimeter of the island are gorgeous. You can do the ride in an hour if you go fast, or 3 if you stop to sit and watch the water.

We had one dinner left, and I really needed a vegetable. A few people recommended trying Five Fifty-Five and when I heard they had a grilled Caesar salad I was sold. Who knew grilled lettuce could taste so good? After a week of solid eating I have newfound respect for restaurant critics who seem like they have the cushiest job in the world, but eating so much is hard! I'm decompressing with smoothies and yogurt. So long for now Portland!

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

My shipping station...

A conversation I had with a woman this morning inspired me to write a blog post about shipping for online sellers, and to share my setup with you. Packing and shipping can be overwhelming for new sellers, but it's one of the most important aspects to selling online. Being able to get products to customers quickly, safely, and preferably cheaply (although that's getting harder and harder to do...) is key to running an online business.

In a home rearranging project several years ago I was able to acquire this potting table (I think from Restoration Hardware?) that used to be the computer table my husband and I shared (way back when in the days when we shared a computer). It looked great, but it was less than ideal as a computer desk - it's way too high. It makes a great shipping table though! It has a drawer where I keep tissue paper, I can fit a selection of boxes and envelopes below, and the top shelf is great for tape, smaller envelopes, customs forms etc... I also have a cutting mat on it for trimming cardboard.

If you're brand new to shipping the first thing you should know is that the Post Office will give you FREE delivered to your door Priority Mail shipping boxes. You can order them from They take about a week or two to get there, so plan ahead if you need to order more. The catch is you have to use Priority Mail shipping which I usually do anyway. I keep a selection of the boxes I use the most often on the table, but I have another storage room that's filled with extra and larger boxes, plus a bunch of plain cardboard ones for International and non-Priority Mail shipping.

The post office website has an easy calculator for checking shipping prices by zip code. The cost will vary a lot depending on how heavy the item is and how far it's going. Make sure you have an idea of how much the item will cost to ship. It stinks to sell an item and lose all the profit because you priced the shipping too low. For heavy and breakable items I often go with FedEx. It tends to be a little cheaper and you get up to $100 of insurance included. Both offer discounts for printing shipping labels online. Which brings me to the next section...

If you are not printing your shipping labels online, you're crazy! It's so quick, and it saves you time and money.
Invest in a digital scale pronto. I have an 11 pound digital scale and a 25 pound old school scale.

For PayPal payments you can print labels directly from the payment - including First Class postage (which the regular USPS website doesn't allow you to do). The only thing you can't print is International First Class postage which is a major sticking point with me. For that you have to use stamps and a green customs form. Don't drop international packages in the mailbox - you have to take them into the post office. Happily at my post office they let you cut the line to drop off prepaid packages. Some nicer post offices (generally ones in the suburbs) will have drop boxes for prepaid packages. If it has a preprinted label and can fit in the mailbox you can drop it there for domestic mail.

A bit about packing... I sell a lot of different types of products from clothing, to glassware to framed pictures. Needless to say depending on the types of products you sell, you'll need a variety of packing products. I always wrap clothing in tissue paper before putting it in a box or envelope (nicely folded of course...). I used to use colored tissue, but several years ago I had an issue when the package got wet and the colored tissue bled onto the garment :( Now I stick to white.

Anything breakable gets wrapped in bubble wrap, and the box gets completely filled with packing material (usually peanuts). If your breakable item can move in the box it isn't packed well enough. Remember that crumpled paper can compress in transit, so it normally isn't a good choice unless you have tons of it. If you have to use crumpled newspaper, put it inside of grocery store bags so it doesn't get newsprint on the merchandise.

I try to use recycled materials when possible, and a few of my friends save boxes and bubble wrap for me. Sometimes stores will save packing material for you if you ask. If I have to buy packing material I always buy in bulk - it's so much cheaper!
I have an XpedX near me where I get bubble wrap and packing peanuts. These packing peanuts are made from recycled material & are biodegradable in 5 years :) I usually order tape and bubble mailers from Staples online - they deliver free (and quick) if your order is over $50. I keep a box on the floor for scrap paper recycling from when I cut labels.

I found this box of horse stickers at the thrift store which I sometimes use to decorate the boxes.

I also always include a postcard and a button with my orders. Hopefully they'll keep it and remember me :)

I hope this was helpful!
Feel free to comment with additional tips if you have them.
Happy shipping!

Sunday, March 14, 2010

This Week's Finds

Just a quickie update with this week's housewares finds.
I love when I inadvertently pick stuff in a color scheme - this day was predominantly a green / yellow day.

The box in the back is a metal storage box for 45 records. The clear plastic handle is a great touch. I used to have a few plaid lunchboxes and I haven't found one in good shape for years. I'm not sure if I'll part with this one...

This mug is so funny! And the elephant planter is a sweetie :)

That's it for now!

Thursday, March 11, 2010

My Fluevog Obsession

In honor of the newest addition to my Fluevog family I thought I'd do a post about one of my favorite things in the world. If you guessed cheese you know me pretty well, but my other favorite thing is Fluevog shoes. I scored this awesome pair of "slightly too big, but I don't care I'm still going to wear them anyway" shoes yesterday at one of my secret thrift shops (which shall remain nameless because if I told you I'd have to kill you). They're orange Safety Vogs that have 3M insets around the heel and on the strap and they couldn't be any more suited to me. Well, unless they were a 1/2 size smaller...

My shoe obsession started with my discovery of punk somewhere around the 10th grade. That was somewhere around 1985 (OK it was 1985), so you can go ahead and do the math if it makes you happy... Most of my shoes back then came from I Goldberg - the army navy store that sold combat boots for I think about $25 bucks or so. I also combed thrift stores where I favored men's buckle shoes I could find in different colors for $3-$5 (red & navy were a favorite) with square toes and wing tip styling. I mostly found these in West Philly. They were the discards of old black men who favored well tailored suits and gentlemanly hats. Their shoes had probably frequented Jazz bars more that Dag Nasty shows, but I loved them and wore them literally into the ground. Sadly, I never find these anymore, but I would still wear them if I did.

My next foray was into the world of Dr Martens. The ubiquitous shoe for the late 80's (and before & after) punk rocker. My friends and I would take trips to the East Village in New York to stores like 99X where we could choose from any color under the sun of Doc boots. My preferred style was cherry red ankle high. It was after years of punk rock sameness wearing Docs that I discovered Fluevogs sometime in college. I can't remember where I first saw them, but my first pair were Angels - black ankle high boots with super comfy soles and a swirl on the side. I have since gone through 3 pairs of these boots, the last of which by all rights deserve to be in the trash, but I save for events like putting silver coating on my roof. To say I'm hard on shoes would be an understatement...

While I may have started with black, the thing I love about Fluevogs, aside from them being wearable and comfortable, is all the amazing colors they come in. I don't know why so few companies have mastered the art of making both cute and comfortable shoes!

It was on to cowboy style slip-ons which you can also see I have worn to death.
The one problem is you can't really find shoe polish for shoes which over the years have turned from avocado green to mustard yellow. I at one point had them in the trash, and then took them back out again. And yes, my mother did specifically request that I not show up for dinner wearing the mustard pair since "it wasn't that kind of place where that would be acceptable". Got it, mom.

I found the wood soled green and white pair on Melrose Ave in LA, and the green with yellow ties in a shoe store in Atlanta somewhere. Vacations are my best time to get Fluevogs since Philly sadly is not exactly a mecca for shoe shopping.

I found the red and blue Aimee shoes in Boston years ago and they're really getting worn out. I would love to find another pair of these in pretty much any colorway. The green and brown Zaza Minis are my latest addition before the orange pair I found yesterday. I have never been able to stand in heels and let me tell you, these are amazing! Not only are they easy to walk in, but I can actually stand up in them for hours. That's saying a lot for a girl who usually has a 1" limit on heels. I just ordered them in purple and orange because as I've discovered if you find a favorite Fluevog you have to get them while you can cause once they're gone, they're gone and you'll be hunting on eBay forever trying to find the ones that got away.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Fondue Party!

As the winter seems to endlessly drag on and the battles with cabin fever rage (except for those of you in Southern California who can completely disregard this. We all know your weather is always gorgeous...) We all need something fun, unusual, and toasty to do. Why not have a fondue party?! I recommend cheese and chocolate which will each need their own pot, but you can have a hot oil pot too (I like peanut oil) if you want to include meat or chicken. Round up some friends, some pots, lots of stuff to dip and a few bottles of wine. Maybe request everyone wear ski attire... Put the fireplace DVD on the telly and you're all set!

While I'm all about skipping the salad, I also prefer to skip the Swiss cheese. It's one of the few cheeses I'm not completely down with. I prefer Cheddar and Beer fondue.
Here's a recipe I like-
Heat 3/4 c. of beer in a pot on the stove (drink the rest of the bottle while cooking). Dust 12 oz. of shredded sharp cheddar (I like Cabot Extra Sharp) with a little flour and add to beer. Add a chopped clove of garlic. When it's melted transfer to the fondue pot and keep warm with the flame. Dip french bread chunks, apples, broccoli - whatever else you want.

Here are some more recipes I haven't tried from the Better Homes & Gardens Cooking with Cheese cookbook 1966 (also the source of the above photo). I love the part about kissing someone if you drop your bread in :)

I love this pot - and the photo! $35 from Crank Heart Pony on Etsy.

This is another nice one - $32 from The Aviary on Etsy.

I would have driven my mom crazy begging for this if I had ever seen it! $40 from Fun in the Kitchen on Etsy.

I super heart Vera designs! This tea towel is perfect for fondue night. $19 from Friday Finds Mama on Etsy.

This is a great pair of tromp l'oeil trays - $18 from Eureka! A Found Life... on Etsy.

Of course if you want to do it up in true vintage style you'll need a selection of vintage recipes. This book is from 1968 and is only $5 from Missing Pieces on Etsy.

You can finds loads of recipes online as well. For dessert I like a semi-sweet chocolate fondue with apples, banana, pears and marshmallows.

Happy melting!

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Friday's Finds

After weeks of being snowed in and a major case of cabin fever I finally dug out of the ice & snow and treated myself to a thrifting day. Shopping days are just about the only days I set the alarm clock. I grudgingly, but happily roll my butt out of bed way earlier than I would otherwise choose to do, down some coffee, and spend the next 9 hours or so losing myself in a treasure hunt. Here's a peek at some of my finds from this week...

Red - Yellow

The ice cream cone cookie jar is really fun!
The burglar is a decanter with a music box that plays "How dry I am".

I love these embroidered pieces. You sometimes don't realize how twisted children's songs are until you see them written down...

These drawings are great.

Blue - Green - Brown

I can't pass up a good frosted cocktail glass.

The mug has a little shelf to keep your 'stache clean.

That's all for now!