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.
Healthy Comfort Food
People describe raising young kids as a particular season in life. I hadn't heard this until we had a baby, but it brought me a lot of comfort when I'd start to let my mind wander, late at night between feedings, to fears that we'd never travel internationally again or have a sit-down meal in our dining room. Would I ever eat a cardamom bun in Sweden? Soak in Iceland? I loved the heck out of our tiny Oliver, but man what had we done?! Friends would swoop in and reassure us that this was just a season, a blip in the big picture of it all. They promised we'd likely not even remember walking around the house in circles singing made-up songs while eating freezer burritos at odd hours of the day (or night). And it's true.
Oliver is turning two next month, and those all-encompassing baby days feel like a different time, a different Us. In many ways, dare I say it, Toddlerhood actually feels a bit harder. Lately Oliver has become extremely opinionated about what he will and will not wear -- and he enforces these opinions with fervor. Don't get near the kid with a button-down shirt. This week at least. He's obsessed with his rain boots and if it were up to him, he'd keep them on at all times, especially during meals. He insists on ketchup with everything (I created a damn monster), has learned the word "trash" and insists on throwing found items away on his own that really, truly are not trash. I came to pick him up from daycare the other day and he was randomly wearing a bike helmet -- his teacher mentioned he'd had it on most of the day and really, really didn't want to take it off. The kid has FEELINGS. I love that about him, and wouldn't want it any other way. But, man it's also exhausting.
I just finished washing out Oliver's lunchbox and laying it out to dry for the weekend. My favorite time of day is (finally) here: the quiet of the evening when I can actually talk to Sam about our day or sit and reflect on my own thoughts after the inevitable dance party or band practice that precedes the bedtime routine lately. Before becoming pregnant for the second time, I'd have had a glass of wine with the back door propped open right about now -- these days though, I have sparkling water or occasionally take a sip from one of Sam's hard ciders. Except now the back door's closed and we even turned on the heat for the first time yesterday. The racing to water the lawn and clean the grill have been replaced by cozier dinners at home and longer baths in the evening. You blink and it's the first day of fall.
I'd heard from many friends that buying a house wasn't for the faint of heart. But I always shrugged it off, figuring I probably kept better files or was more organized and, really, how hard could it be? Well, I've started (and stopped) writing this post a good fifteen times which may indicate something. BUT! First thing's first: we bought a house! I think! I'm pretty sure! We're still waiting for some tax transcripts to come through and barring any hiccough with that, we'll be moving out of our beloved craftsman in a few weeks and down the block to a great, brick Tudor house that we wanted the second we laid eyes on it. The only problem: it seemed everyone else in Seattle had also laid eyes on it, and wanted it equally as much. I'm not really sure why the homeowner chose us in the end. Our offer actually wasn't the highest, but apparently there were some issues with a few of them. We wrote a letter introducing ourselves and describing why we'd be the best candidates and why we were so drawn to the house; we have a really wonderful broker who pulled out all the stops, and after sifting through 10 offers and spending a number of hours deliberating, they ended up going with ours. We were at a friend's book event at the time when Sam showed me the text from our broker and I kind of just collapsed into his arms. We were both in ecstatic denial (wait, is this real?! Did we just buy a house?) and celebrated by getting chicken salad and potato salad from the neighborhood grocery store and eating it, dazed, on our living room floor. Potato salad never tasted so good.
If your house is anything like ours, last week wasn't our most inspired in terms of cooking. We're all suffering from the post-election blues -- the sole upside being Oliver's decision to sleep-in until 7 am for the first time in many, many months; I think he's trying to tell us that pulling the covers over our heads and hibernating for awhile is ok. It's half-convincing. For much of the week, instead of cooking, there'd been takeout pizza and canned soup before, at week's end, I decided it was time to pour a glass of wine and get back into the kitchen. I was craving something hearty and comforting that we could eat for a few days. Something that wouldn't remind me too much of Thanksgiving because, frankly, I can't quite gather the steam to start planning for that yet. It was time for a big bowl of chili.
Porridge is not the sexiest of breakfasts, it's true. It doesn't have a stylish name like strata or shakshuka, and it doesn't have perfectly domed tops like your favorite fruity muffin. It doesn't crumble into delightful bits like a good scone nor does it fall into buttery shards like a well-made croissant. But when you wake up and it's 17 degrees outside (as it has been, give or take a few, for the last week), there's nothing that satisfies like a bowl of porridge or oatmeal. It's warm and hearty and can be made sweet or savory with any number of toppings. The problem? Over the years, it's gotten a bad rap as gluey or gummy or just downright boring or dutiful -- and it's because not everyone knows the secrets to making a great pot of warm morning cereal. So let's talk porridge (also: my cookbook comes out this month! So let's take a peek inside, shall we?)