The Foraging Trilogy I : From Forager To Chef

Foraging is the act of searching and gathering of food sources and provisions. This three-part story is not about me foraging in the traditional way of wandering in the woods and fields of Maine searching out edible ingredients. I will leave that adventure to others and will enjoy their endeavors in other ways. This is a continuing story about searching out good food sources and quality ingredients whether you are eating in a restaurant or creating a wonderful dinner at home. I will be focusing on Portland, Maine, thought of as one of the best foodie cities in the U.S.  There is one common thread in all three parts and that is mushrooms.

Mushrooms At Their Finest

The first story takes us to Monjoy Hill in Portland, Maine. This east end section of the city was first settled in the 1600’s. The area is easy to find…just look for the Portland Observatory. The seven story octagonal building shaped like a light house is hard to miss. Built in 1807, this National Historic Landmark is the last surviving maritime signal tower in the U.S. From its observation deck, you have a wonderful view of Portland harbor.

The Historic Seven Story Portland Observatory

Today Monjoy Hill is a residential  neighborhood of colorful homes.

Monjoy Hill Is An Eclectic Area Of Colorful Homes And Businesses

The homes are mixed in with shops and galleries, bakeries and small markets. You will find everything from thrift shops to the studio of textile designer Angela Adams. Independently owned coffee houses and restaurants can also be found in this Portland hot spot. One of several restaurants in the area is The Blue Spoon, a causal restaurant serving lunch, dinner and Sunday brunch.

The Blue Spoon

The Blue Spoon is very small with about ten tables, a small bar and several little tables under umbrellas on the sidewalk. Chef and owner David Iovino has a menu that changes with the seasons. The dinner menu changes weekly using what is fresh from local farms in the area.

My husband and I went to the restaurant for lunch and had a great meal. We started with two appetizers, and both were very good. First, we chose the meze plate that consisted of olives, feta and honey, pickled vegetables, charcuterie, marinated beets, sliced apples, flat bread and warm pistachios. Nice little nibbles to share.

Meze Plate

Our second appetizer was a wonderful fritter of ricotta, prosciutto, and smoked mozzarella, with a black olive mayo sauce. Light and delicious.

Ricotta Fritters With Black Olive Sauce

Next came the main course and that was a hard decision.  My husband debated between their wonderful BLT and the Bistro Burger. In the end, the burger won out as it had been named one of the top ten burgers in the northeast by the Boston Globe. The burger is made from Wee Bit Farm grass fed Scottish Highland cattle. The ground sirloin is mixed with caramelized onions, red wine, and herbs.  It is cooked and then presented on a freshly baked bun with a warm potato salad.

The Bistro Burger

As for me, it was a much easier decision. I love wild mushrooms and decided on the risotto with foraged and harvested mushrooms, wilted spinach, blue cheese and parmesan.

Mushroom Risotto

This was a delicious risotto and the point of this story. The restaurant gets many of its mushrooms from Rick Tibbetts, who is a professional forager. Rick is well-known as one of the most knowledgeable foragers of mushrooms in New England.

After such a wonderful meal, I always wonder if I will have room for dessert. Yes, I always ask for the dessert menu but many times I skip it because it seems ordinary and not worth the calories. But this was not the case at the Blue Spoon. The restaurant is well-known for its coconut flan. How can you resist a cool, sweet flan with a lovely caramel sauce oozing down its side. Topped with soft whipped cream, I knew I had to taste it…two forks of course.

Coconut Flan Topped With Freshly Whipped Cream

I was very happy with lunch at The Blue Spoon and can see why it is so popular with the locals. If you happen to be in Portland sometime and want to enjoy a meal made with locally sourced ingredients, do try The Blue Spoon. As small as the restaurant is, I think calling for a reservation is a good idea.

Do you want to know what the second part of the trilogy is…you must wait for a little while. But I will give you a hint…markets!

Posted by

I travel the back roads of the world, sharing great food and interesting places and enjoyable pastimes.

154 thoughts on “The Foraging Trilogy I : From Forager To Chef

    1. Thank you Marie, for your nice compliment. I love mushrooms, especially some of the more usual ones. They were delicious in the risotto.

  1. We are driving daughter and family to Mancheste airport today and leaving early so we can play for a while in Portland. Blue Spoon sounds like a great place for lunch and we’ve not been there. I’m already drooling!

    1. Hi Lulu, I think you will enjoy having lunch at The Blue Spoon. You will have to let me know how you liked it. Easy to find…it is on Congress St. It has purple umbrellas on the sidewalk and is next to the colorful home in the photo.

  2. All the dishes sounds wonderful, I would have such a dfficult time choosing. Very original idea presenting the burger with warm potato salad instead french fries, I would order the burger just for the potato salad. But with foraged mushrooms and blue cheese in the risotto, I want that too, what a delicious problem!!!!!

    1. Hi Norma, The menu had lots of great sounding dishes…it was hard to choose. I tasted my husband’s warm potato salad and it was great. The risotto was delicious.

    1. Hi Charlie, I love walking around Portland…there are so many interesting areas to visit. The risotto was delicious with the foraged mushrooms.

  3. I enjoy finding places that serve locally grown/raised foods. Now we know a couple of sites and a place to try when we go see our son in Portland. Thanks. 🙂

    1. Hi Richard, Thank you for your nice comment. I think you will enjoy the restaurant and the area. I would suggest a reservation if you go for dinner.

    1. Thank you Mandy. I’m glad you enjoyed part one of the trilogy. Portland is a “must visit” town when touring Maine. I like to introduce people to what we like doing when we visit.

  4. Looks like a delicious meal Karen. I wish I’d read this prior to our trip to Portland a couple of years ago, but perhaps there will be another one.

    1. Hi Larry, It was a delicious meal. I do hope you make it up to Maine in the summer another time…we could share a meal in Portland.

    1. Thank you Norma, for your nice compliment. I’m glad you enjoyed the post. I do hope you get a few days away in Maine…we love summers here. Part two should tempt you further.

  5. Foraging is something that has always fascinated me, simply because of my food issues and paranoia surrounding food poisoning! I’m happy to leave it to the experts but, like you, I’m also very happy to be the beneficiary of their hard work. I just refuse to do it myself!

    1. Hi Dena, Yes foraging does sound so interesting but I do worry that I might end of poisoning myself as well. I certainly do enjoy the fruits of other peoples labor though and I know several restaurants where the mushrooms are picked by experts.

    1. Hi Victoria, The charcuterie was very good…peppered on its edges and went very well with the slices of the apple. The black olive sauce was a perfect sauce for the fritter. I don’t know what made it so creamy.

    1. Hi Tim Man, There is a Stone Dog Cafe in Windham, Maine which is between Portland and the lakes region that serves breakfast and lunch. Actually it well known for its corned beef hash and lobster omelets at breakfast.

    1. Hi Sawsan, The mushroom risotto was delicious. I liked that it was different with the addition of blue cheese and wilted spinach. Thank you for your comment.

      1. I know what you mean…it happens every fall when we close the house down in Maine. There are so many nice places to visit in Maine. Portland is such an alive and happening little city…especially for foodies.

    1. Hi Ladyfi, I like to pick berries…at least I can recognize which ones are safe. Thank you for the compliment on the observatory photo. It is so tall that I had to go way up in someones yard to try and eliminate the electrical wires.

    1. Hi Rosemary, Thank you for your comment. The Monjoy Hill section of Portland is so much fun…loved the paint job on the old house. The food was terrific.

  6. Oh boy why do I read these before lunch! What a nice post – I haven’t been to Portland in years – perhaps it is time to plan a getaway weekend there instead of driving by the exit on my way to somewhere else!

    1. Hi Carol, When you know that the weather is going to be nice, you should plan a weekend in Portland. I don’t think it is much more than a two hour drive for you. There is so much to do and really good restaurants all over the town.

  7. Oh I just love Maine. I would love to go back and I would be sure to check this little restaurant out. I love restaurants that only have 10 tables. So intimate!

    1. Hi France, Thank you for your nice comment. I love our summers in Maine…it really is a beautiful state with lots to do. The restaurant does have that intimate feel and we had wonderful service at lunch.

  8. Sounds like your foraging really paid off in the wonderful meal above. I look forward to your future expeditions.

    (I really must try making a warm potato salad one day … or even a regular potato salad.)

    1. Hi Boleyn, I’m glad you enjoyed the post and are looking forward to the next one. Yes…we did a good job seeking out a restaurant that not only was good but uses locally sourced ingredients. I had a taste of the warm potato salad and it was delicious.

    1. Hi Uru, I’m glad you enjoyed the post. The risotto with the foraged mushrooms was delicious as were all the other dishes we enjoyed.

    1. Hi Ambrosiana, My husband was torn between three different dishes and was happy with his choice…it was a great burger. The menu has so many great items. I know we will be going there again.

  9. That risotto looks wonderful especially – can’t wait to read part II though! I didn’t know that Portland was considered one of the best places from a Foodie point of view… will need to bear that in mind in case I ever come for a visit to the US some day!

    1. Hi Charles, The risotto was delicious…I was very happy that I ordered it. Portland is definitely a foodie destination. If you every cross the pond, I know you would enjoy New England. I’m partial to Maine and New Hampshire because that is where we spend our time.

  10. Always a pleasure to travel along with you Karen! You find the best spots! Delicious looking dishes all around. I would have saved room for that flan too!!

    1. Hi Linda, I’m glad you enjoyed visiting the Monjoy Hill area of Portland with me. The meal was great from the beginning to the end. The flan was delicious.

    1. Hi Donna, The food was as amazing as it looked and I’m glad you enjoyed the post. I know you would enjoy Portland. Even though it is a small city, it is an alive and happening place to visit. There are so many great restaurants…from casual lunch spots to innovative dinners in trendy restaurants.

    1. Hi Kelli, You are so right…foraging did lead to a wonderful little restaurant. We really enjoyed all the different items on the meze plate.

  11. Portland is one of my favorite cities. I’ve traveled there many times for work and have a friend nearby in the Bowdoin area. I’ll definitely keep this place in mind for my next trip. (But there are so many great restaurants there!)

    1. Hi Michelle, We are lucky that Portland is less than an hour away from our summer cottage. You are right, I could write for a month about all the wonderful places to eat in Portland. Do keep The Blue Spoon in mind for the next time you are in the city.

    1. Wow…I like your comment. The meal was terrific from the meze plate to the very end with the flan. We will definitely be going back. Thank you Jessica!

  12. During the rainy season we use to forage for wild mushrooms on our backpacking trips and throw them into the pan for supper. So good! I love the look of that risotto. In fact, it all looks delicious! What a feast! Portland is such a great food town!

    1. Hi MJ, You are right…Portland really is a great food town. I’m happy that we discovered The Blue Spoon as all the dishes we had were great. I love that you are knowledgeable about edible mushrooms. The rewards of having fresh cooked mushrooms after a hike is terrific.

  13. Hi Karen! I thoroughly enjoyed your travel and food post! Gosh, I was drooling over each pictures of the food – amazing! I’d devour in this restaurant. Never seen or heard of coconut flan and that is such a great idea… burgers, fritters, maze plate… everything looks so delicious. Thanks for sharing your experience and enjoyed reading about it!

    1. Thank you Nami, for your nice compliment. I’m glad that you enjoyed the post. I made a coconut flan several years ago and had to try the restaurant’s version. It was really good especially with the soft whipped cream topping it.

    1. Hi Claire, Thank you for your comment. I agree with you…I enjoy mushrooms, especially the more exotic ones that you don’t see very often.

  14. A lovely lunch and a glimpse of a city I’ve not yet visited. Everything you ate looks wonderful, but it’s the image of that enticing flan that lingers in my mind …

    1. Hi Marlene, Thank you for your comment. I’m glad you enjoyed the post. I though the flan was delicious…a perfect ending to the meal.

    1. Hi Chris, The lunch was really good. I wish the restaurant was around the corner instead of an hour away. I’d be there for lunch today with you.

  15. I love taking these trips with you, Karen, and The Blue Spoon seems like a perfect spot for lunch. That risotto would have me returning time and time again. My Grandmother was a mushroom forager and taught Mom & Zia how to do it when they were very young. Unfortunately, the Girls never kept up with it, as they matured, and didn’t trust their memories enough to pick mushrooms later in life. As you can well imagine, this is not something you “take a stab at.” Thanks for Part 1 and I’m looking forward to Part 2, the markets.

    1. Hi John, I’m glad you enjoy our little trips…Portland is just an hour away from the lake. The Blue Spoon made a perfect lunch stop while exploring a fun section of Portland. I think it was a good idea that your mom and Zia didn’t trust their memories of foraging with your grandmother. I’ll let the professionals do the foraging and reap the rewards at the restaurants that use their goodies.

    1. Hi Bonnie, I glad you are enjoying the trip…thank you very much. I wish everyone could taste the delicious food we tried instead of just seeing the photos. I’ll enjoy having you along for the rest of the trip.

    1. Thank you Pattie, for your nice compliment. I’m glad you enjoyed the post. Portland has some wonderful and very photogenic lighthouses. My husband thought the burger was great…served on a homemade bun.

  16. Such a lovely post, Karen. The restaurant looks like something I would want to eat at; I checked the lunch menu and it’s great. I love the meze plate you ordered, and SO REASONABLE!
    My Mom used to be able to forage for mushrooms; they would take along a silver spoon and if it turned black the mushroom was not edible. Not sure I would employ this technique today, but she certainly survived her childhood.

    1. Hi Eva, Thank you for your lovely compliment. I’m glad you enjoyed the post. I think the prices are very reasonable for the quality ingredients used in their preparations. I know that there are lots of people that have ways of identifying good mushrooms…I never heard of using a silver spoon. I think I agree with you about not using the technique today. I’ll let the professionals find them for me although I would like to tag along on one of their hunts.

    1. Hi Pumpkin, It seems that the risotto is everyones favorite…it really was delicious. I’m glad you enjoyed the post on Portland, thank you for your nice compliment.

    1. Hi Jed, If you and Liz are in the Portland area, I really do thing you would be happy having a meal at The Blue Spoon. I’m glad that you enjoyed the post, thank you!

  17. What a drool-worthy post…everything–from the photos to the food. Everything you both ordered looked so delicious. However, I think that first appetizer you showed would’ve filled me up. Looking forward to part 2!!

    1. Hi Bliss, A drool worthy post is such a great compliment, thank you. I can’t believe that you are such a dainty eater, you would be a cheap date. My husband says I eat like a bird too…a vulture. LOL. I’m glad you are looking forward to part 2…coming soon.

  18. Everything looks so good…I so wish I could have a bite of each dish…yum!
    Thanks for the post and the great pictures and hope you are having a fun week Karen 🙂

    1. Thank you Juliana, for your comment…it has been a lovely week so far. I’m glad you enjoyed the post. Each and every dish was terrific.

  19. Hi Karen, what a lovely post! I love mushrooms, and use to forage for it in Washington state. The smell and the flavor of wild mushroom is unbelievable… Interesting place you went to, I would love some of that risotto, and ricotta fritters. Thanks for the tour… 🙂

    1. Hi Marina, Thank you for your nice compliment. I’m glad that you enjoyed the post. It is interesting that you are know which mushrooms are safe and used to forage for mushrooms. You would have enjoyed the risotto and fritters, they were very good.

  20. I definitely plan to visit there one day.. and this would be a must-see give that it has a beautiful light house.. and incredible food. I, too, would have chosen the mushroom risotto.. just imagining how fresh those mushrooms must have tasted!!

    1. Hi Barbara, I know you would enjoy a visit to Portland. There are lighthouses, a fort, and a walkable downtown area. The observatory offers great views of the port. Best of all, there are lots of good restaurants to try.

    1. Thank you Tandy, for your nice comment. I’m glad you enjoyed the walk around the Monjoy Hill area of Portland. The food was great.

  21. I’m definitely going here the next time I visit Portland, Maine! The food looks outstanding and I love that they locally source most of their ingredients. Sounds like you two had a lovely lunch and day together.

    1. Hi Laura, I think you would enjoy the restaurant…our lunch was very good. On their website they list all the farms where so much of what they prepare comes from. We did have a lovely day in Portland…thank you.

      1. Just made your eggplant parm for dinner. Delicious! I ended up doing everything in the kitchen though because we were out of charcoal for our grill and the weather was not very warm today anyway. Thanks for the inspiration and my husband was more than thrilled too as this is one of his favorite dishes!

      2. Hi Laura, Thank you for letting me know that you enjoyed the eggplant parmesan from the earlier post and that you enjoyed it. It is always nice to hear back from someone who has tried one of my recipes.

  22. Karen, it sounds like a wonderful restaurant. Your description of your meal has made me hungry. I hope you have a wonderful day. Blessings…Mary

    1. Thank you Mary, for your nice comment. The restaurant is very popular with locals and I can see why. We really enjoyed our lunch there.

  23. I’ve never heard of Portland, Maine before! Portland, Oregon, yes. But Portland, Maine? I’d have to thank you for showing me around!

    1. Hi Jen, I’m glad I could introduce you to Portland, Maine. It is the largest city in Maine but is small with a population of about 66,000 people. Thank you for your comment…happy that your enjoyed the little tour.

  24. I’ve written that one down – looks fabulous. I remember going out after rains with my father to pick wild mushrooms. He knew them all & I wish I felt comfortable w/that myself because there is just nothing in the market that comes close. He used to pick one that tasted just like meat & we’d make a meal of them.

    1. Hi Diane, I find it amazing that people who are knowledgeable in wild mushrooms can know which mushroom is safe and which isn’t when some look so similar. You must have wonderful memories of foraging for wild mushrooms with your father.

  25. You always manage to find the good places to eat Karen. You must have a sixth sense for it. And you always manage too to take such good photos of the food. We live in the other Portland, also very much a foodie city. Thanks for the little trip to “yours”!

    1. Thank you Spree, for your nice compliment. I’m glad that you enjoyed our little day trip down to Portland for lunch. Sometimes I find great restaurants by luck but most often it is by research. Especially when you are traveling and know that you might not return to the area…you want to make sure that you eat the best there is in the area. Oh yes…you live in a great foodie city as well. Two cities named Portland…one on each coast of our country and both are known for there great food.

    1. Hi Cathy, If your luggage has been to our Portland, I think you should make the trip as well. Very different cities…much smaller here on the east coast than your lovely city. Both cities have wonderful and different seafood.

    1. Hi Amy, How wonderful that your husband is a forager. It must be so nice when he finds little mushroom treasures in the woods. Maine really is a lovely place to visit, I hope you get a chance to return.

    1. Hi Sartenada, Thank you for your nice compliment. I’m glad you enjoyed the photos. The observatory really is interesting and has wonderful views from the top.

    1. Thank you Susan, for your nice compliment. Yes, the earthy flavor of mushrooms are delicious and were wonderful in the risotto I had.

  26. When I was growing up in Winslow, Portlant seemed like the biggest city. They had TRAFFIC! lol I can remember driving down to see The Sound of Music when it first opened. funny memories. 🙂

    I love mushrooms! will the foraging end up with fiddleheads perchance?

    1. Hi Maureen, I’m glad you enjoyed the post and that it brought back nice memories. I hope you will enjoy the rest of the trilogy. Fiddleheads…interesting.

    1. Hi Jean, Thank you for stopping by to visit and your nice comment. I think you would enjoy visiting Maine. There is lots to see and great restaurants as well.

  27. So, now I that I have read the first part of your wonderful posts about Portland, I am ready to take a plane…a vacation in Maine would be really nice and I would be able to check out all the fantastic places that you recommended. Would be just perfect now…I love your photography, especially of the “Observatory”!

    1. Thank you Andrea, for your lovely compliment. If you ever get a chance to travel to New England, I think you would enjoy visiting Portland. It is a town of 66,000 that is a fun and happening place to spend a few days. It makes a great base for making day trips to other areas. My husband and I will be heading to Germany in October…one of our favorite countries to visit.

    1. Hi Ducky, It was such a nice day in Portland to explore the Monjoy hill area. The ricotta fritter was great, especially with the black olive cream.

    1. Hi Greg, Thank you for your nice compliment. I’m glad that this post inspired you make the ricotta fritters…they look terrific.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s