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Archive for the ‘food’ Category

darwins mug heart table striped journal

When I thought about the shape of this freelancing summer, I knew one thing: it would still include lots of time in Cambridge.

I’ve been working on several projects for Harvard, which means I sometimes come into the Square for meetings and research. But, more simply and importantly: this is my neighborhood. I love it here in Cambridge, and whether I’m sending out resumes, writing book reviews or meeting friends, there’s no place I’d rather be than Harvard Square.

Tuesdays this summer, in particular, have fallen into a routine I’m loving.

First: a morning with my journal and laptop at Darwin’s, drinking tea, writing and answering emails. Sometimes I meet up with a friend and we co-work for a while, taking breaks to chat. Other times it’s just me: elbows on a green table, sunshine pouring through the plate-glass window at my back.

The sunset walls, the cheerful baristas, strong Earl Grey or ginger peach in a deep mug and a sweet-tart lemon scone: all of these are deeply familiar delights. I nod to a couple of other regulars, and either ease or dive into the work, depending on the day.

Around lunchtime, I close my laptop and head to the Harvard farmers’ market, where I get lunch from Amanda: homemade Texas tamales, elotes (street corn) slathered with garlicky sauce and spices, and a container of salsa roja to take home to my husband.

tamales elotes lunch

I find a shady spot, if I can, to perch and eat my lunch. The people-watching at the market is always a treat, and then I go pick up the week’s fruit from my favorite produce guys. I loved chatting with them about the World Cup earlier in the summer, but we also talk about the weather, the market or whatever comes to mind.

I run a few errands or go work at the library for a while, then frequently meet a friend in the afternoon for (iced) tea. Inevitably, I’ll run into another few folks I know (or see some of my favorite baristas), and sometimes I go by the florist to pick up a bouquet for my kitchen table.

Making the rounds, seeing my people, walking the familiar streets I love: this is my place. And on Tuesdays, especially, I get to glory in it.

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neponset river light water bridge sky

We’re halfway through July, and y’all, it has been hot.

I grew up in West Texas, where the temps regularly climb above 100 from about May to September, but heat and humidity in Boston can be a whole different beast.

Since we don’t have central a/c in our third-floor apartment, and since I’m not working in an air-conditioned office at the moment, I’ve had to come up with a different arsenal of tricks for surviving a heat wave – especially the weeklong furnace blast we endured earlier this month.

In case you’re sweltering too, or expect to be, here are my expert tips:

  • Go to the movies. We’ve seen three movies in the last six weeks (Ocean’s 8, The Incredibles 2 and Solo) both because we wanted to see them and because of the air-conditioning. Bonus: matinees are cheaper and they get you out of the house during the hottest part of the day.
  • Make gazpacho. We’d tried this chilled veggie soup in Spain, and the hubs has been asking for it regularly ever since. When it’s too hot to turn on the stove or the oven, this makes a filling, healthy dinner.
  • Drink something hot (yes, really). I won’t give up my hot tea in the morning even on scorching days, and I’m convinced it really does cool me down.
  • Seek out air-conditioning.  This one seems obvious, but it’s a lifesaver on these broiling days. I am ever more grateful for coffee shops and libraries, for so many reasons.
  • Eat spicy food. It really does help cool you down – not that we needed another excuse to eat Tex-Mex food around here.
  • Exercise in the morning. I’ve been getting up early to go running (who am I?) on some mornings when the forecast is particularly scorching. There’s more shade and less heat on the trail then. I’m still doing yoga at various times of day – but the studio has a/c and ceiling fans.
  • Box fans. These saved our lives during my childhood summers in Ohio, and they’re saving my life (and my husband’s) on these hot nights. One in the kitchen, one in the bedroom. Plus ceiling fans.
  • Front porch sitting. Our back porch is an oven in the late afternoon, but the front porch gets the shade and the breeze at that time of day. I swear it can make a 10-degree difference.

What are your best tricks for getting through a heat wave?

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invisible ghosts book cherries lemonade

My reading has slowed down a little as I adjust to a new rhythm (and fewer commutes). But I’ve still read some great books recently. Here’s the latest roundup:

Invisible Ghosts, Robyn Schneider
Rose Asher has gotten used to being invisible, spending most of her time watching Netflix with the ghost of her dead brother, Logan. But when her former neighbor Jamie moves back to town – and it turns out he can see Logan too – lots of things begin to change. A sweet, funny, moving YA novel about grief, love and moving on. A serendipitous find at the Harvard Book Store.

Virgil Wander, Leif Enger
I won an ARC of Enger’s new novel (out in October) from the publisher. (I loved his first novel, Peace Like a River.) This is a quiet story of some odd, likable, utterly human people living in a forgotten Minnesota town. The narrator/title character runs the nearly-defunct movie house. Full of lovely sentences and vivid details, like the intricate kites one character makes by hand. I didn’t love the ending but the rest of it was wonderful.

Death on the Menu, Lucy Burdette
I like Burdette’s cozy Key West mystery series, narrated by quirky, nosy food critic narrator Hayley Snow. This eighth entry involves a big catering event gone awry, Hemingway’s Nobel Prize medal, and (of course) murder. Fun and a bit zany, though some of the recurring plot threads are getting a little tired. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Aug. 7).

Love & Gelato, Jenna Evans Welch
Reeling from her mother’s death, Lina goes to Tuscany to spend the summer with the father she’s never met. Once there, she finds a journal her mother kept during her art-student days in Florence, which may hold clues to Lina’s own story. Sweet and romantic, if a little predictable. Made me crave gelato, of course. Recommended by my girl Allison.

The Wild Places, Robert Macfarlane
I love Macfarlane’s keen-eyed, lyrical nonfiction about walking and wildness. This book traces his journeys through various wild places – forests, mountains, islands – in the British Isles. Luminous, thoughtful, keenly observed, like all his work.

My Years at the Gotham Book Mart, Matthew Tannenbaum
Matt owns and runs the wonderful Bookstore in Lenox, MA, which I recently (re)visited. This is his slim, rambling self-published memoir of working at the now-defunct Gotham Book Mart in NYC. I picked it up mostly because I love talking to him (and I got him to sign it). So fun.

Save the Date, Morgan Matson
Charlotte “Charlie” Grant’s big sister is getting married, which means Charlie’s whole family will be back together at their house for the first time in a while. But once the wedding weekend gets underway, everything starts to go wrong. A hilarious story of wedding disasters, and an insightful look at how even the people we love are more messy and complicated than we might expect. Matson’s YA novels are so much fun, and this one was no exception.

Most links (not affiliate links) are to my favorite local bookstore, Brookline Booksmith.

What are you reading?

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cafe con leche cafe hercules sevilla

One of my favorite parts of Spain, this time, was breakfast.

I am both a person who enjoys breakfast and a person who needs it: if I’m up and about for too long without eating anything, I start to wilt and then I crash. It’s not pretty.

Happily for me, the Spanish also love their breakfast. I had nearly the same thing every morning during our time in Spain: una tostada y café con leche.

In my regular life, I am adamantly not a coffee drinker: even my long-ago stint as a barista failed to convert me to coffee, though it did help establish my tea addiction. But I first tried café con leche on a long-ago midwinter weekend in Valencia, and loved it, to my own surprise. So this time, I took full advantage of the opportunity to enjoy it every morning.

tostada cafe hercules sevilla

The other element of breakfast in Spain is una tostada: toasted or grilled bread topped with crushed tomatoes and doused in olive oil. This, as my new friend Karen points out, is the traditional option, but many places offer variations on the theme: con queso, con mermelada, con jamón (cheese, marmalade or jam and sliced ham, respectively). My favorite variation: con aguacate (avocado).

That’s what you see above, at what quickly became my favorite cafe in Sevilla: Café Hércules. They offer several types of bread, then let you mix and match your own toppings. Plus the staff are friendly, the coffee is delicious, and the whole relaxed-funky-local vibe reminded me irresistibly of my beloved Darwin’s.

We tried several other breakfast spots in Sevilla, mostly thanks to Karen’s recs. She’s an American travel writer and blogger whom we met at a yoga class on our first morning there. After class, we all went for desayuno in the nearby plaza, and Karen told me about her blog. By a semi-coincidence, we ran into Karen and her husband, Rich, at Bar Alfalfa – another one of Karen’s faves – a few days later.

My other favorite part of eating out is the people-watching, and desayuno offers a perfect way to do that: sipping a café and munching a tostada in a neighborhood bar means you have a reason to be there and plenty of time to watch the locals come in and out. We always left caffeinated and fortified. And since we got home, we’ve been making our own tostadas on Saturday mornings while we watch the World Cup. A little taste of Spain.

More Spain photos and stories to come.

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waves neponset summer

Jen posted recently on Instagram that some seasons feel like this: being knocked to the ground and having all your pieces scattered, like a puzzle.

When this happens, the pieces often will not come together again in the same way. You can know this, and still not have any idea what the new picture will look like.

I am standing on the edge of such a season: the open space of summer, the still more open space of the job hunt, the aftereffects of so many changes over the past couple of years still settling in.

Some days, I can admit this to you quite calmly, and on other days, I am trying not to slide into blind panic about what’s next.

I know – since I have been here before – that this is the human condition. We all get our lives rearranged, or decide to rearrange them ourselves, every now and then. And we walk through, and survive. But meanwhile it’s the small things that save our lives, over and over.

So here, because I need to make the list every so often, are the latest things that are saving me:

  • This line from The Last Jedi: “Hope is like the sun. If you only believe in it when you can see it, you’ll never make it through the night.”
  • Getting out on the river trail: summer breezes, so much lush green, thickets of wildflowers, and the light.
  • My neighbor’s dog, Riley, who knows I’ll always stop to pet her and will happily plonk herself down on my feet while I do so.
  • The guy at the phone repair shop, who fixed my cracked screen twice in one week (!) and gave me a case he had lying around.
  • Peonies and good cheer from my beloved florist.

peony close up table

  • Every single kind email from a colleague, friend or acquaintance, with job leads or encouragement. There have been many of these, and I’m grateful.
  • Being in the middle of several good books at once, which is the best kind of middle.
  • Lauren Winner’s words from Still about being in the middle of one’s spiritual life, which resonate deeply these days. And this line from later in the book: “This is the story you will wrestle with forever.”
  • Texts from friends near and far, checking in.
  • Granola bars and peanut butter crackers. I am an inveterate snacker.
  • Every single drop of chai, Earl Grey and compassion from the folks at Darwin’s. That last is, not surprisingly, the most important.
  • Ginger peach tea, when it’s too hot for chai or just because it’s my summer drink.
  • Tamales and fresh salsa from Amanda every Tuesday at the farmers’ market.
  • Kicking butt with Erin and other strong women at Monday night boot camp. And following it up with yoga.

What’s saving your life these days? Please share, if you want.

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June is…

roses red yellow june flowers

June is sunrise before 6 a.m. and sunset after 8 p.m., the days stretching longer and longer to hold the fullest amount of light.

June is strawberries and asparagus, rhubarb and the first sweet corn. June is the long-anticipated return of tamales and salsa at the Harvard farmers’ market every Tuesday.

June is turning on the box and ceiling fans, tending a basil plant on the front porch, finally moving my geraniums outside.

June is weather whiplash: from 55 to 85 and back again in the space of a few days. “If you don’t like the weather, wait five minutes,” people say, in both my West Texas hometown and my adopted New England city.

June is peonies and honeysuckle, roses and clematis and the first day lilies. June is thickets of wildflowers along the river trail: purple clover and wild daisies, tiny birdsfoot trefoil and tall elderberry bushes in full flower.

elderflower bush blue sky elderberry

June is transition: the shift from the frenetic pace of the school year to the slower-but-not-stopped rhythms of summer.

June, this year, is more change piled on the change that has characterized the past year: my beloved boss retiring, other colleagues moving on. June is wondering what’s next for me as I dive into the job hunt, again.

June is the start of summer reading: light fiction, lots of young adult lit and mysteries, the latest stack of review books.

June is veggie quesadillas and huevos cooked on the stovetop, fresh fruit whenever and however possible, lots of lemonade and ginger peach tea.

June is stepping into summer and wondering what it holds.

What does June look like where you are?

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Ever since the first time I visited Spain, I’ve wanted to go back.

That initial trip came in the middle of a spring semester in Oxford, when my classmates and I took budget flights to the Continent and spent long weekends trekking new cities. We slept in hostel bunk beds, got lost on winding streets with signage in unfamiliar languages, soaked up museums and cathedrals and new foods, and generally had the time of our lives.

spain group 2004

I spent my Spring Break that year with four friends on a ten-day jagged loop of travel that began and ended in Barcelona. We hopped down to Granada and then the south coast for a couple of nights before a train journey to Madrid, which ended prematurely when terrorists bombed several trains in the city that morning. We were still several hours away, but we were substantially delayed, and the city was in shock by the time we arrived.

To many of our loved ones, that last incident came to define the whole trip. We couldn’t get word to our parents and professors for hours, and they were, understandably, terrified. But I have fought ever since to hold on to what came before: a whole week of exploring and soaking up a vivacious, beautiful country, eating tapas and drinking sangria and wandering to our hearts’ content.

I flew back to Spain for a long weekend in the winter of 2008, wandering Valencia with my friend Cole and a group of American students, drinking café con leche and eating fresh oranges and, one night, crowding into the back of a smoky bar to watch live flamenco. The following year, my husband and I took an autumn trip to the Basque country of northern Spain, where we wandered narrow streets in Pamplona and ate our weight in pintxos in San Sebastian, and tried to decipher signs written in Euskara.

Earlier this month – nearly 10 years later – we flew to Andalucía for a glorious 10-day jaunt: to Sevilla, new territory for both of us, and Granada, which I already adored. There are many stories to tell about our trip, and I’ll be sharing some of them with you this summer.

But it starts here: with Kyle saying, “Why don’t we go to Spain?” one night in Oxford, nearly a decade and a half ago. With Marcela, who’s from Honduras, acting as our chief interpreter, and Elizabeth navigating half a dozen unfamiliar cities by paper map. It starts with Jenny’s sweet smile and Kyle’s dad sense of humor, with the wide, colorful chaos of Las Ramblas in Barcelona and the crisp mountain air of Granada. It starts with a hike in the hills near Órgiva, with oranges plucked from tree branches hanging over a fence, with bulky backpacks and plastic grocery sacks of fresh fruit. It starts with crusty baguettes and jamón serrano and slices of queso manchego eaten in public parks at lunchtime. It starts with card games in hostels, with hanging clean laundry to dry on pensión terraces, with glasses of sangria and inside jokes and the wonders of La Alhambra.

Since that first journey, Spain has lived in my bones, and I was absolutely thrilled to go back – again. And while we made lots of wonderful new memories, this trip was part of that larger story. It was my fourth viaje a España, but I very much hope it won’t be my last.

More Spain photos and stories to come.

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