Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Welcome Autumn: The Best Mulled Cider I Have Tasted In Years

Restaurant:  Mornings in Paris Old World Cafe
When Visited:  September 2012

Happy Autumn LilyOnTheLam.com Readers:

My October resolution is to write more blog posts since the last 6 weeks have been horrifically anemic.  I not only blame Anderson Cooper for this (read why here), but also "Sons of Anarchy" creator Kurt Sutter for killing off one of my favorite characters on the show.  (I won't reveal who in case you haven't seen the episode - no spoiler alert here!)  Needless to say, I have been too broken up to blog!

(All kidding aside, the real life death of former "Sons of Anarchy" star Johnny Lewis was a very sad footnote to the TV show scripted death of another character.  The loss of someone so young with so much potential to alleged drug use and mental illness is truly tragic.)

As usual, I have been on the Lam (hence more excuses for not blogging).  I was in Portland, Maine for a 4 day weekend last week.  It was a "see Fall colors, get to wear sweaters, see Comedian Margaret Cho at Downtown Portland's State Theatre (front row seat, baby!) and eat as much lobster as humanly possible" weekend and success was had on all accounts.  I have another trip coming up, but since you all like to stalk me on a regular basis I won't reveal where I am going until after I have returned.  So nyah-nyah-nyah.  ;-)

In the next few weeks, look for my "Lobster Rolls of Portland, Maine" blog post where you get to see my reviews of the 9000 Lobster Rolls I devoured while in Portland.  (OK maybe it just felt like 9000).  Also, stay tuned for an eventual Clam Chowder blog post (but in the meantime, check out my San Francisco clam chowder blog post).  OK basically my trip to Maine was one big eat-a-thon that I did solely and purely out of the goodness of my heart so that I could relate food knowledge to you, my readers.  I am practically Mother Theresa.

(BTW, if you don't know who Comedian Margaret Cho is - check out her website here or look to the left of this blog post for her picture on my blog - she's the sassy Asian woman holding up the "Hi Lily" sign and NO, that was NOT photo-shopped.  (Read all about how this picture came into being by reading the blog post here.)

I have lived in many winter climates, including - Minnesota, Wisconsin and the home of "help, I'm buried under 30 feet of snow" Buffalo, New York.  Living in Florida, I can soundly say that I do not miss snow, ice, sleet, hail, slush, freezing weather, black ice, fishtailing when I drive, scraping windows, blizzards and other manner of winter weather fiascoes.  I don't miss it at all!  But I do miss the change of seasons - when the fall colors emerge and we go from green to a firework storm of golds and reds.  

I also miss the culinary aspects of fall - crunching into a crisp apple with the autumn wind blowing on my face, slightly coloring my cheeks pink with the cold air or diving into a bowl of beef stew in front of a fireplace.  For my first ever trip to Maine, I packed my sweaters and closed-toe shoes (no Flip Flops this time!) and a hunger in my belly for some autumnal food and drink.

The first day in Maine was bright and sunny - very summery.  My three remaining days in Maine were cold with incessant rain.  I walked around the Old Port of Portland but peppered my walk with many shopping and dining stops to duck out of the rain.  On one of the coldest days, I spotted this cute cafe called "Mornings in Paris Old World Cafe."  Why is it that "Mornings in Paris" sounds romantic and alluring whereas "Tea Time in Hoboken" or "Dusk in Tampa" just sounds sad?  (Sorry Hoboken!  Not sorry Tampa!)

The line was out the door of this lovely cafe and that seemed like a good sign that I needed to check this place out!  There was a sidewalk sandwich board sign advertising hot mulled apple cider.  Now THAT was exactly what I needed for my "Celebrate Autumn/Get out of the rain" festivities.  

I stood behind a couple who basically decided that they needed to have every pastry in the bakery case.  "Ohhh I'm getting the cream-filled horn ... no wait, the tiramisu ... no wait ..."  I tried to enjoy the situation for its mirth and merriment, however the bitter wannabe hipster in me rolled her eyes discreetly.  I knew immediately what I wanted.  There was no "oh wait, no --" dialogue going on in my head.  It was hunger at first sight when I spied an apple cider cupcake with cinnamon frosting.  HELLO AUTUMN!  HELLO CUPCAKE - get in my BELLY!     

After I placed my order, I watched the woman behind the counter ladle the mulled cider into my cup.  A traditional mulled cider is apple cider steeped with "mulling spices" such as cardamom, clove-studded oranges, cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg and brown sugar.  I don't know what Mornings in Paris used for their mulling spices, but I could tell you it smelled incredible. I knew just on smell alone that this cider was going to be very authentic.  

Even with the long line, I outfoxed some of the patrons and snagged a prime table in the back of the cafe.  It gave me a great view for people watching - especially the hottie barista who was way behind in making espresso drinks for the not so patient line in front of him.  He could best be described as a military lumberjack ... a hot military lumberjack.  Every cup of mulled cider should be accompanied by a gorgeous view - fall colors, children playing or a hot military-style lumberjack ... beauty is found everywhere!

While I let my cider cool slightly, I took a picture of my recent shopping acquisition - a gift for my sister from an Old Port gift store store named "Something's Fishy."  Since my sister and I refer to each other as "Feeesheeee" (a long drawn-out, over-emphasized version of the word Fishy), I knew I had to get her a gift from this store.  I texted the picture to my sister and she texted back "Is that a cupcake under that bag?"


To bastardize a line from the movie "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" - "Cupcakes move pretty fast, if you don't stop and look around once in awhile, you could miss them."  My hyper-alert sister was not going to miss a cupcake sighting.  Obviously you can tell we are related.  

I have to say that without a doubt Mornings in Paris' hot mulled apple cider is the best mulled apple cider I have had in years.  You could tell that the mulling spices had been steeping for quite sometime.  The result was rich, complex and belly-warming.  It was autumn in a cup.  Plain and simple.  It was beyond delicious.  If you are near Portland, Maine, you need to have a cup of this seasonal beverage while it's still in season!  

The apple cider cupcake was not as apple-y or as cider-y as I would have hoped.  The frosting was either old or had a tremendously high fat content as it came off in one piece and was pretty hard.  I figured this was God's way of telling me to skip some calories and fat.  I ate the cupcake instead.  It was large with discernible apple pieces and a nice texture.  If it had just been called an apple cupcake, I would have been happy - but "apple cider cupcake" made me think of a much more spicy, pungent cupcake.  Like a rich spice cake studded with apples.  So the name was more of the let down.  I expected more.  But it was still pretty tasty and the hot mulled cider helped up the moisture content when paired with the cupcake.  

If you're looking for a great autumn-flavored cupcake, go to East End Cupcakes (only a few blocks away from Mornings in Paris) and get their pear cupcake with honey buttercream frosting.  You won't regret it!  (Stay tuned to future LilyOnTheLam.com posts where I write about East End Cupcakes and just how many cupcakes I ate from their store!!!)

Overall, I loved the atmosphere at Mornings in Paris Old World Cafe.  The service was friendly.  The long line of patrons obviously adore the place - which is admirable in an area that has many coffee house and tea house options.  The hot mulled apple cider was the best I have tasted in years and they had a nice variety of baked goods to satisfy any sweet tooth.  The only drawback I saw is that you may be paralyzed by how many wonderful choices of pastries there are ... here's my advice: order them all!  ;-)

If you're not in the Portland Maine area, here are some recipes online for hot mulled cider.  I plan on making some in my crockpot when it finally cools down in Florida.  There may not be snow outside my Tampa Bay window, but I can still enjoy the flavors of autumn.

Mulled Apple Cider Recipes from the Internet:

The Pioneer Woman

Crockpot Mulled Apple Cider

Chef Bobby Flay's Mulled Cider

(And for those who enjoyed alcohol, Chef Bobby Flay's Mulled Red Wine Sangria recipe.)

P.S. Today is Chef Floyd Cardoz's birthday - celebrate my reading my blog post on Chef Floyd's cooking class and also my blog post on Chef Floyd's North End Grill.

P.P.S.  Check out Margaret Cho on tour now - her comedy show is fabulous!

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