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.
On Monday our little family of three is headed to the airport at 6 am to board our first with-baby cross-country trip. We'll be visiting Sam's family in New Jersey for a few days, then renting a car and driving over to meet up with my family at my mom's lake house in the Adirondacks. Sam's younger sister and her kids have yet to meet Oliver; my grandpa has yet to meet him, and Oliver has yet to take a dunk in a lake, see a firefly, or spend quality time with energetic dogs -- of which there will be three. A lot of firsts. This week my family has been madly texting, volunteering to make certain meals or sweets on assigned days while we're at the cabin and it got me thinking about really simple, effortless summer desserts -- in particular, ones that you can make while staying in a house with an unfamiliar kitchen and unfamiliar equipment and still do a pretty bang-up job. I think fruit crisp is just that thing.
Somehow, in what seems to have been a blink of an eye, we have a six month old baby. In some ways I can't remember a time we didn't have an Oliver, and in other ways it's all a blur broken up by a few holidays (a Thanksgiving thanks to grocery store takeout, and our very first Christmas in Seattle), a few family visits, a one-day road trip to Portland, a birthday dinner out, a birthday cake, weekend drives to nowhere in particular, swimming at the pool with Oliver, weekly get-togethers with our parent's group, doctor's visits, hundreds of walks around the neighborhood, hundreds of cups of coffee, dozens (or more?) of scoops of ice cream. Most of the worrying about keeping a baby alive has made way for other concerns, and Oliver's need for constant stimulation or soothing walks and car rides has been traded for stretches of time playing with a new toy or checking out his surroundings. In truth, it's thanks to that tiny bit of baby independence that this humble, summery cake came to be in the first place. So we've all got an Oliver to thank for that. Or, really, we have a Yossi Arefi to thank, as it's from her beautiful new cookbook that I've bookmarked heavily and am eager to continue exploring.
We walked to the library last week and I had a strange realization standing in line watching Sam check out his usual massive stack of books: Will I ever have the time to read stacks of books again? I used to be much more of a reader than I am today -- a fact I'm not at all proud of. But when evening rolls around and the more formal workday ends, I find emails and other odds and ends creep in. Walking home from the library, I began obsessing over free time for reading, asking Sam if we'd ever be those two old people who study bird manuals and can recognize birds on walks. I want to have the time to read bird manuals someday. For now though, we're young and we're working a lot. We did sneak away on that one-night camping trip I told you about, and cooked some interesting, haphazard meals which I hope to share with you soon. For now though, for summer: a strawberry dessert recipe.
Much like friends, types of Sunday mornings, or books -- there are many different kinds of desserts. Sometimes you may be in the mood for a light French cake piled high with summer fruit. Other days, a thick slice of fragrant pound cake will do. And then there are those days when you crave a rich chocolate mousse that you share after a night of good conversation and a little too much wine. But let's be honest. When it comes right down to it, the most basic and unassuming dessert of all is sometimes the only one that will do. A good and simple affair. Vanilla ice cream. So I want to talk about that today--about a dessert that withstands the test of time, that will always be there for you. A dessert that is far from trendy, that doesn't play favorites or trick you into thinking it's something that it's not. It's a good foundation. A solid beginning.
[ Pie. if you've been around here much in the last few months, you know that I make pie. A lot of pie. And I'm particularly excited to share this pie with you today because it helped me break out of a rut. A pie rut. A baking rut. A Marge inspiration rut.