Friday, July 12, 2013

Boulder: Tee & Cakes

As each day passes, I grow a little more in love with the Mile High city. Everything here, from the people to the attractions, is exactly what I’ve always imagined my ideal city to be like. And I absolutely love that it’s a norm to travel outside the city a good couple of times every month.  So this past Tuesday, my friend and I decided to spend some time in the city of Boulder.

Just forty minutes north from Denver, this quaint city sits on the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. As you stroll along, you’ll notice that it’s the perfect mix of simple civilization and nature. Running through the city is Boulder Creek where you’ll see people wading in the river, children tubing, and even a man canoeing. Right alongside it, you’ll notice a ton of bikers, which is no surprise at all. Colorado probably has the most bikers out of any city; so much so, that the cities were designed so that people could bike through it with very minimal contact with auto traffic. And of course, Boulder still has the popular outdoor shopping strip, Pearl Street Mall. Walk through the street and you'll be entertained by two or three musicians who will transport you back to the wild, wild west. So during our time here, we just walked around and went into any place we happened to go into. We were told before hand to check out this bakery that also sells art and tees. So finally, we hit one of our pit stops: Tee & Cakes. The minute I walked in, I felt like I was part of a Tumblr photo (I think only some of you will understand what I mean by that).
This bakery won a piece of my heart right at the get-go with their brick wall. Hanging up on both sides were various pieces of art; paintings, wall decals, even a funky skateboard. On the right were also merchandise from tees to pins to cake d├ęcor. They provided sleek and simple white tables and black chairs for seating. A small white vase and a cute flower arrangement on each table brought it all together. And finally, the best part...the food!

I felt like I was in wonderland! Inside the bakery case were cupcakes, cake pops, various fruit bars, and cakes. But that wasn’t it: on top of the case were more cupcakes, mini-cupcakes, and macarons. And like any other bakery, they served coffee and teas as well. I was really excited because everything about this bakery was perfect. So after probably ten minutes of thinking and deciding, I ordered several things. I ordered a regular sized strawberry cream cheese cupcake with a cone sticking out from the top. I also ordered a mini red velvet cupcake, a mini raspberry chocolate cupcake, a lavender macaron and a key lime macaron. On a side note, if you ever get to visit this place, you should probably try their chocolate bacon cupcake. This is one thing they were known for. The only reason why I didn’t order it was because I actually forgot to. I know, I’m totally guilty! But I also decided to buy a wall decal for my place back home. It's this cool, funky colorful framed design that says "But First. Coffee." Touche! 

But on the flip side, you all have to give me some kind of props. I didn’t eat everything in one session; they actually lasted until late at night. Though they were all eaten in one night, I still saved them for a later period. I consider that an accomplishment for myself! But anyhow, the one thing I love about Boulder is that it has so many small coffee shops, bakeries, and stores with novelty items. It almost reminds me of small towns back home like along Cape Cod, Marthas Vineyard, or Ogunquit, Maine. 

This is probably the midpoint mark for my internship and therefore, my time in Denver. This experience to travel to a whole new city alone has been remarkable and it isn't even over yet. For me, whenever I go anywhere new, I like to live like a local. 

When you travel, what do you like to do? What's a place you immediately found yourself in love with?

Friday, June 21, 2013

Have you seen the...Cookie Lady?

I have been waiting for this moment for quite awhile: the first blog post in Denver! And I must say, though I have been to many worthy cafes already in such a small period of time, I'm glad I waited. This bakery hole-in-the-wall is just the perfect segway into my adventures here by the Rockies. So I realized I haven't had any bakery sweets in the longest time; I don't know if anyone else ever has these epiphanies but I certainly do. So I asked my best friend Yelp to help me find "cupcakes" and the first thing at the top was Sante Fe Cookie Company. Now none of you know this, but the first and last time I was mesmerized by delicious cookies was in Boston when me and my friend discovered a place that delivers cookies. I don't know how many boxes of twelve we've ordered but that can stay confidential. I guess within five seconds, I forgot about cupcakes and went with cookies instead.
Prior to coming to Denver, I made a travel plan of some sort for myself. On my day offs I will engage in touristy attractions. But on days when I do have work, during my time off, I will find things locals do during their spare time. I did have a couple of hours to spare before my PM shift for my internship. I headed down towards 16th Street Mall where this secret cookie place lies. At first I couldn't find it because it wasn't on the main street, but of course it was on a lower level. It totally adds to how discrete it is. I walked in and it was everything but also nothing like I thought it would be; the shop itself was small with the actual kitchen itself taking the majority of the space. So from a customer standpoint, there wasn't much to see: essentially, you walk in, grab what you want, pay and leave. And even though the process itself is meant to be quick and easy, it has the experience of any awesome bakery. Behind the counter, you can see the owner and baker rolling dough with cookie prowess, placing a tray into the oven and then taking out a fresh batch full of warm cookie-goodness. Don't even get me started on the smell. How can you not like fresh-baked-goods-smell?

And if you ever experience this for yourself, don't be fooled. The owner and baker herself lays out a very wide variety of sweets for you to grab-and-go. There are cupcakes, brownies, muffins, roll-ups, bars, and of course, at least twelve different flavors of cookies all bagged and ready in groups of three. So despite everything being great already, what really put the cherry on top for me was the method of payment. I know, weird right?
I didn't really know what to do so I honestly stood there awkwardly because she was busy speaking over the phone. While I was browsing, a gentleman came in, tossed a few coins into a jar, and grabbed a bag of cookies, and left. A part of me was like "Wait...did he just steal cookies..?" Another woman came into the store and I just greeted her because why not. She asked if this was my first time here and it certainly was. And just like every friendly person here in Denver, she welcomed me and also gave me a rundown of how it works at Santa Fe Cookie Company. So the sign you'll see in the front is "3 Cookies for $1" which is a ridiculously crazy deal. These aren't puny cookies; these are large, freshly baked, warm cookies. All you have to do is pay however much you need to pay and grab whatever you want to eat. So for example, if you want a bag with three cookies already packed, just put a dollar into the jar and you're good to go. 

I personally have never seen this ever before and I think it is the coolest concept ever. But I this was so risky to me! It's so easy for anyone to come in and grab whatever they want and leave without paying. While I was in that bakery, I saw about ten people come and go; each and every single one of them paying. And though ten people isn't the greatest pool for any probability testing, there's really something fundamentally humane about this place. If anyone were to ask what the secret ingredient is, I really think it would be trust and loyalty. It seems like the owner just continuously bakes as people come and go and to make it easier on herself, she just puts her trust in her customers to pay. She bakes the best cookies Denver has ever tasted and in return, everyone stores her trust by paying. 

With cookies, I always start with the classics first. After four quarters tossed into the jar, I grabbed a bag with three chocolate chip cookies. And just like I expected, they were warm, crunchy on the outside but warm with chocolatey gooeyness in the inside. And to my readers, this is what my definition of control is. Luckily, I didn't have much cash on me because imagine if I had like five dollars? I could have potentially left with fifteen cookies. Trust me, this is ordinary for me.

So all in all, what makes this place so great is that it's the epitome of a hole-in-the-wall. Santa Fe Cookie Company doesn't have a website and doesn't even have its own Facebook page or Twitter handle or anything. The only way for you to really find out about this place is either through true word-of-mouth or I guess customer-lead sites like Yelp. Tucked away along one of Denver's biggest tourist streets with one of the smallest spaces ever, it sure packs a huge punch in not only sweetness but also experience. If you're interested in learning more about the history and background, visit Denver Post's blog "The Best Secret Cookie Place in Denver". I love reading about upbringing of places like these because it helps you understand the owner and it makes the experience that much better. 

Have you ever been to a place similar to Sante Fe Cookie Company? And for kicks, what's your favorite cookie flavor?

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Clear Flour Bread

Sometimes, it's nice to walk off the beaten path and stroll through the roads less traveled. On a beautiful afternoon, my friend Mazy (author of the blog Social Media Never Sleeps) and I decided to walk through the back streets of Commonwealth Avenue. We've always wanted to just wander aimlessly and see what we come upon. At this point, we were technically walking in Brookline and what we ultimately found was the perfect portrayal of the eclectic, boutique-y nature of Brookline. After only about a five minute walk behind the Comm. Ave. apartments, we found a beautiful, little bakery called Clear Flour Bakery

For a small bakery, they sure packed a lot of...everything! The minute you walk in, you see merchandise on the right, an entire bakery rack full of pastries, and an extremely wide arrangement of freshly baked bread. I absolutely loved it; everything looked so fresh. And if just seeing it for your own eyes isn't enough, then the open kitchen in the back says it all. I realized that I actually haven't seen an open bakery like this in a very long time. Isn't that the essence of any bakery? I think it's safe to say that the scent of bread baking in the oven is a natural wonder. Though I have never been to France, I'd like to think that I was transported to Europe for about ten minutes. 

So my friend and I, as per usual, decided to purchase an array of goods. We bought a bunch of desserts and bread. We bought everything from chocolate cakes, a crumb bar, a tart, brioche, and a fresh french baguette as well as sourdough bread. I really do feel like bread is a culinary trip for all five senses: the scent of fresh bread, the sight of a whole baguette, the sound when you break a piece off, the crunch after one bite contrasting with the warm interior, and I don't even need to go into the taste. And once again, just like old times, we ate it all with a mini charcuterie spread: prosciutto, two types of pate, and camembert. 

I did go back for a second round but I had to ask the employee how long this bakery has bene here for. To my surprise, it has been there for over 25 years. Where have I been!? I guess better late than never. I must say, it's a little dangerous that this bakery is so close to home. Now that I know an authentic bakery is just around the corner, I could see myself visiting quite often. And if you want to have a better idea of what exactly they sell, just visit their website. Their list of breads alone will have you salivating.

So what do you like most about bakeries? And just for kicks, what's your favorite kind of bread?

Sunday, June 10, 2012

New Obsession: Macarons

Macarons are still a new concept for me personally. I was introduced to them relatively later than compared to other folks. Besides the typical confusion with "macarOOns" or the quite frequent sighting of these morsels on my Tumblr dashboard, there wasn't much talk or "eat" around macarons. It wasn't until I visited New York City that I was so determined to find a bakery that sold macarons. About a couple of months ago, I had my first macaron from Bouchon Bakery. The minute I bit into that almond goodness, I was sold. They're just amazing! And of course, being typical me, instead of buying one my first time, I ended up buying five!

So my family friends and I have all been obsessed with macarons to some degree by this point. It was our very goal to find a place in Massachusetts, preferably not too far from Boston, that specialized in authentic, French, delicious macarons. After quick research via our friends Google and Yelp, we found a seemingly promising cafe in Lexington, a town about twenty minutes out of Boston. Macaron Sweeterie, a very adorable gem in a very adorable town, is a cafe that sells not only macarons, but also gelato, teas, coffee and espresso. The store may not have too much space but their attention to detail and authenticity of their products are what really makes this place so successful. The minute you step through the door, you just already have the gut-feeling that this is the place to be if you want high-quality sweets. 

Step up onto a dark wooded-floor and you'll discover that, yes, there isn't much space. It only takes about one extra step or two to hit the cashier area of the counter after walking through the doors and the customer space in front of the counter was only about seven or eight regular strides wide. But the area behind the counter was wide open giving it almost like a workshop feel. It was kind of neat considering you could see everything that the counter staff was doing. The only available seating were two light-blue booth seats separated by a suspended sugar and mixer area for your beverages on-the-go. There were many shades of blue throughout the store all adorned with dark intricate designs. On the far left of the counter was a simple flower accent with a description of the store's macarons and gelato and on the far right was a nice display of suspended macarons inside a glass cover. But the decor doesn't stop there: it seems that their macarons are more versatile than we think! There were macaron tiers, macarons in a bird's nest, macaron towers, and even macarons hanging from strings in the front of the store. It still doesn't stop there. The lady in the store was extremely friendly and so informative. She let us know that they also sell affogatos-espresso poured over gelato-and macalatos-gelato sandwiched between two macaron shells-as well. She even told us how to care for them in terms of how long they would last for: about a week kept in the refrigerator and about four months kept in the freezer. Of course, time must be given to them so they can reach room temperature before eating. It was all very clear in the end: they live and breathe macarons! 

Now, not everyone knows what a macaron is. It's a sweet confectionery supposedly originating from France that is glutton-free that is made with almond flour or ground almond. Sandwiched between two macaron shells is commonly ganache, buttercream, or jam filling. Food coloring is what makes them all so colorful. What sets Macaron Sweeterie's macarons apart is that each one has their own personality, "made to be savored for their delicacy and unique character." They have about twelve to sixteen different original flavors a day including rotating seasonal flavors. You can purchase their macarons in sets too-mainly one, two, six, twelve, or twenty-four packages. I'd let you guys guess how many I bought but you'll probably get it right because it's so predictable. I actually bought a doppio espresso with six macarons: vanilla, nutella, caramal fleur de sel or salted caramel, rose petal, honey lavender, and pistachio. (Fun note: my family friends and I bought in total thirty-eight macarons.) A simple description of what it's like to eat a macaron is just basically heavenly. For starters, there are so many textures going on at once: the flakiness of the outer coating of the shells, the crunchy nice of the macaron shells themselves, and then the sweet creaminess of the filling. And of course the flavors are just out of this world. What I love about macarons is that the almond taste just adds a hint of nuttiness to the overall specific flavors. So in the end, everything is just absolutely perfect. In my opinion, when you're eating a macaron, you're pretty much on cloud nine!
Macarons are honestly a bit hard to find in the city itself. In the course of a whole semester, I found only about three places in Boston that sells macarons: Cakeology in downtown, Thinking Cup Cafe by the commons, and Crema Cafe in Cambridge by Harvard Square. I haven't tried them all but I must admit, the Macaron Sweeterie is a force to be reckoned with. I realized that it is always the small hidden gems of local towns that have the best of the best because they tend to specialize in one item and put the most care into being as authentic as they can be. And what else is great? Being able to enjoy them right in the vicinity of your own home! I have a lot left to eat. So...
Have you ever had a macaron before? If so, what is your favorite flavor? If not, GET ONE!