This past weekend I flew to Boston to celebrate what would have been the 30th birthday of one of my dear friends who died this past fall. It was, fittingly, a long celebratory weekend filled with laughter, old friends, old haunts and–of course–food. I went to graduate school in Boston and haven’t been back since, so I did a lot of wandering my old favorite neighborhoods and checking out what had changed. I thought I’d informally pull together some pictures and highlights of what we were up to and where we ate in case you find yourself in Boston with an empty stomach and some free time on your hands.
Friday: I took a red-eye Thursday night and got in Friday morning. Those flights always sound way better in theory than how they actually play out: I was starving, exhausted, and needed a shower upon landing at 7 a.m. It was too early to check into the hotel, so we headed over to one of my old favorite breakfast spots, Zaftig’s in Coolidge Corner.
Zaftig’s is a classic Jewish deli and they do an amazing breakfast (all day long). They were out of my usual order: the strawberry pancakes with homemade strawberry butter. If you’re ever in Boston, you must try them. So instead, I settled for the Empire Eggs: two potato pancakes that would’ve made my grandma proud topped with smoked salmon, poached eggs, and hollandaise sauce. My friend Linnea had the corned beef hash. We both had lots and lots of coffee as we planned our next move.
After breakfast, we ditched our bags and headed over to Boston Common and Beacon Hill to check out the skaters on Frog Pond, stop in for a mid-morning chocolate at Beacon Hill Chocolates (they have an amazing international selection and sweet vintage papered gift boxes), and browse funky cards and dishware at Black Ink. Then there was the world’s longest nap and catching up with old friends in the evening.
Saturday: I finally made my way over to the Mapparium at the Mary Baker Eddy Library. Next time you’re in Boston, do this. Trust me. It is literally a three-story painted glass globe that you walk directly into via a long footbridge. The acoustics are wild: you can hear your friends as they whisper all the way across the room from you. And it’s just an exhilarating perspective being inside of a globe and getting to see the world in it’s entirety with one glance. After that, we headed over to Flour Bakery and Cafe for BLT and turkey sandwiches and the best crinkly double chocolate cookie on the planet. I’m convinced.
Right down the street is a cupcake shop that opened right after I left Boston and I’d heard great things from friends. So Linnea and I strolled over there and shared a carrot cake cupcake with cream cheese icing at the South End Buttery, did some dog-watching (the South End neighborhood is home to the most fabulous, well-groomed dogs in Boston), and enjoyed a much-needed break from the cold.
Before heading back to the hotel, we took the T over to Harvard Square to browse the shelves of the Harvard Book Store. They have an incredible used selection and I always find about ten new books I’m dying to read and have long debates with myself as I try to narrow down my choices.
Sunday: Started the morning with coffee at Diesel Cafe in Somerville. It’s a bit of a schlep over there, but talk about vibrant, contagious cafe energy.
I used to come here and study all day on Sundays. They have communal tables, comfy booths, incredible coffee, pool tables, couches, a lovely selection of treats–what more do you need? After that, I headed back downtown to meet up with some friends at Wagamama.
I first went to Wagamama in London with my Dad years ago, and I couldn’t wait to try it again here in the states. I remembered it having an appealing modern aesthetic, interesting raw juices, and awesome ramen. Maybe it was a chain back then and I just didn’t realize it, but it definitely felt more corporate and a little less charming this time around. But my vegetarian buckwheat noodle soup with tofu and sprouts was warm and filling. My friend Bill ordered the spicy ramen with chicken and actually broke out in a sweat. That’s a good sign…in my book. That afternoon, we headed back over to Harvard Square to amble around and hit up Burdick chocolate shop.
Remember the movie Chocolat with Juliet Binoche? Well At Burdick’s, they do that uber-thick, rich hot chocolate that’s a lot like drinking the best chocolate bar of your life. This is the place to warm up and regroup–it smells like rich dark chocolate, everyone’s smiling, and the pace is slow. We stayed awhile. Some of you wrote to me with a few Boston favorites and suggestions. I’d love to hear of any places you think we missed so I can add them to my list next time a’round–maybe when it’s a little warmer and the ground has thawed out.
The Thanksgiving Table
Today is a different kind of day. Usually posts on this blog come about with the narrative and I manage to squeeze in a recipe. But sometimes when you really stumble upon a winning recipe, it speaks for itself. We'll likely make these beans for Thanksgiving this year. They're one of those simple stunners that you initially think couldn't be much of a thing. And then they come out of the oven all sweet and withered and flecked with herbs. You try one and you realize they are, in fact, a pretty big thing.
I always force myself to wait until after Halloween to start thinking much about holiday pies or, really, future holidays in general. But this year I cheated a bit, tempted heavily by the lure of a warmly-spiced sweet potato pie that I used to make back when I baked pies for a living in the Bay Area (way back when). We seem to always have sweet potatoes around as they're one of Oliver's favorite foods, and when I roast them for his lunch I've been wishing I could turn them into a silky pie instead. So the other day I reserved part of the sweet potatoes for me. For a pie that I've made hundreds of times in the past, this time reimagined with fragrant brown butter, sweetened solely with maple syrup, and baked into a flaky kamut crust. We haven't started talking about the Thanksgiving menu yet this year, but I know one thing for sure: this sweet potato pie will make an appearance.
It has begun. Talk of who is bringing what, where we'll buy the turkey, what kind of pies I'll make, early morning texts concerning brussels sprouts. There's no getting around it: Thanksgiving is on its way. And with it comes the inevitable reflecting back and thinking about what we're thankful for. And about traditions. The funny thing about traditions is that they exist because they've been around for a long time. Year after year after year. But then, one Thanksgiving maybe there's something new at the table.
I didn't expect green beans to bring up such a great discussion on traditions, sharing of poems and how a piece of writing can linger with you. So thank you for that. Your comments pointed out how important people and place are and how food takes the back seat when it comes right down to it. Even if you feel quite warm towards Thanksgiving and are looking forward to next week, reading about recipe suggestions and meal planning online and in magazines can start to feel tiresome right about now. Why? Because I suppose when it all comes down to it, in the big picture it doesn't matter what we all serve anyway. Next year, you likely won't remember one year's vegetable side dish from another. What you'll remember are the markers that dotted the year for you: whom you sat next to at the table, a toast or grace, and the sense of gratitude you felt for something -- large or small.
I got a text from my mom the other day that read: demerara sugar? I responded back with a question mark, not sure what she was referencing. It turns out she was experimenting with a new pie recipe that called for the natural sugar and wasn't sure why she couldn't just use white sugar as that's what she's always done in the past. A few days later we talked on the phone and she mentioned she'd let me take charge of the salad for Thanksgiving this year as long as there was no kale. No kale! And I wanted to do the mashed potatoes? Would they still be made with butter and milk? In short, we're always willing to mix things up in the Gordon household. Whether it's inspiration from a food magazine, friend or coworker, either my mom or one of my sisters will often have an idea for something new to try at the holiday table. But what I've slowly learned is that it can't really be that different: there must be pumpkin pie, the can of cranberry sauce is necessary even though not many people actually eat it, the onion casserole is non-negotiable, the salad can't be too out there, and the potatoes must be made with ample butter and milk. And while I was really scheming up an epic kale salad to make this year, there's a big part of me that gets it, too: if we change things too much we won't recognize the part of the day that comes to mean so much: the pure recognition. We take comfort in traditions because we recognize them -- because they're always there, year after year. And so today I present to you (mom, are you reading?): this year's Gordon family Thanksgiving salad.