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Archive for the ‘food’ Category

bookstore lenox interior shelves

Since June began, I’ve flown to Texas and back, endured flight delays and up-and-down weather, taken on all the new writing assignments at work, and squeezed in half a dozen books. Here they are:

Here We Are: American Dreams, American Nightmares, Aarti Namdev Shahani
Like so many immigrants, the Shahani family came to the U.S. for a better life. When Aarti was a young teenager, her father and uncle were accused of selling electronics to a notorious cartel. The case dragged on for years and had a powerful effect on the whole family. She brings it to vivid life: both her family’s experience and the glaring failures of the U.S. immigration and legal systems. Powerful and timely. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Oct. 1). I also got to interview Aarti, who is now an NPR correspondent, and she was lovely.

The Nightingale, Kristin Hannah
France, 1940: the world is at war, the Nazis are suddenly everywhere, and many Frenchmen are conscripted. Sisters Vianne and Isabelle, who have long had a contentious relationship, must figure out how to survive. I finally read this novel at my sister’s (repeated) urging. A super slow start, and Vianne and Isabelle both drove me crazy for a while, but it was a compelling look at women in France during the war. (The ending will break your heart several times over.)

The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek, Kim Michele Richardson
Cussy Mary Carter is the last of her kind: a rare blue-skinned people living in the hills of Kentucky during the Depression. She’s also a Pack Horse librarian, delivering books and magazines (via her mule, Junia) to people in isolated rural communities. I loved learning about the Pack Horse librarians (who were real people), but some of the plot was a bit lacking.

The Last Romantics, Tara Conklin
Fiona Skinner, youngest of four children and renowned poet, is asked about her most famous work and its origin. She goes back to a time they called the Pause: after her father died, her mother remained bedridden for nearly three years. The events of the Pause affect Fiona, her sisters and their brother for years to come. Conklin is a strong writer (I loved her first novel, The House Girl). This one kept me turning pages, but I wasn’t sure I really knew the characters by the end.

Love Sugar Magic: A Sprinkle of Spirits, Anna Meriano
Leo Legroño is trying to learn magic, keep her older sisters happy, and be there for her best friend, Caroline. When Leo’s deceased abuela and several other spirits accidentally cross into this world from the other side, Leo and Caroline must figure out how to send them back. A sweet, funny, magical second entry in this middle-grade series.

The Floating Feldmans, Elyssa Friedland
Annette Feldman is turning 70, and she’s determined to have the perfect family vacation to celebrate. But forcing her husband, two bickering grown children, their partners and her daughter’s two teenagers onto a cruise ship has unexpected results. A fast, funny, often bitingly witty novel about family and secrets. To review for Shelf Awareness (out July 23).

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

What are you reading?

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carrot ginger soup bowl strawberries table

I’m not big on New Year’s resolutions, these days. But I am always looking for ways to add a little more joy to the everyday, especially during the winter. So I floated an idea by my husband recently: how about we try 19 new recipes in 2019?

I know myself, and it’s super easy for me to rotate between the same half-dozen meals (or, in the winter, the same few standby soups). And while there’s nothing wrong with huevos on a Monday night after boot camp, a big pot of simmering tomato soup, or tacos (always tacos), I could always use a little meal inspiration – and a few more veggies – in my life.

Nineteen recipes seems doable: an average of one or two per month, a way to interrupt or spice up the usual pattern without hijacking it altogether. There’s usually at least one recipe in each month’s Real Simple that I want to try, and I have a dozen cookbooks I hardly ever use. I’m hoping this goal will push me to do a bit of experimenting – maybe even find a new favorite or two.

We started off with a simple chicken adobo recipe (from Real Simple, naturally), then dipped back into Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle (an old favorite) to try sweet potato-and-spinach quesadillas. With guacamole, of course.

The verdict in both cases? So far, so good. I’ll check back later in the year.

How do you find new recipes to try? Any tips?

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January sunrise pink clouds gold blue

Every year as the calendar turns over to January, I think: here we go.

My friends and family in Texas always ask, at Christmastime: Is it snowing up there in Boston? My verbal answer is usually Not yet, and my silent one, which comes right after it, is something like: Real winter starts in January. 

winter berries trail January bare branches

December was cold and bright this year, but now we are into the season of snow, wintry mix, biting winds and cold rain, not to mention record-breaking cold over the long weekend and (still) much less daylight than I’d like. We are – hallelujah – past the solstice, so the days are getting longer, but winter in the Northeast can feel long no matter how much sunshine there is.

So, as I often do, I thought I’d make a list of the good stuff: those small pleasures that are (mostly) limited to this less-than-favorite season of mine. Here they are:

  • Slicing open a fresh pomegranate and scooping out the seeds – like handfuls of little tart jewels.
  • Clementines, peeled and eaten out of hand, juicy slices bursting with tart sweetness. (Bonus: the scent lingers on my hands.)
  • Chai, for me, is a three-season pleasure, but it’s especially comforting on bitter mornings.
  • Winter sunrises out my kitchen window (see above): blue and gold, sometimes streaked with pink clouds.

paperwhites window flowers

  • Growing paperwhites near those same kitchen windows. Watching their long stems grow feels like magic to me.
  • Hearty, spicy soups and stews – nothing better on a bitter night.
  • Those diamond-bright, blue-sky mornings – if I’m properly bundled up, I love them.
  • Sitting in the right spot on a morning subway train to catch the sunshine flooding into my face.
  • Morning light on the deep-blue waves of the Charles River, and watching the ice patches spread (it’s fascinating).

Ivey book slippers twinkle lights

  • Snuggling up under the faux-fur blanket I’ve had for years. (Related: plaid slippers and fleece-lined tights.)
  • Dreaming of spring travel.
  • Twinkle lights that linger after the holidays.
  • Cozy handknits, especially my workhorse Evangeline gloves and my pink Gin Fizz.
  • Long walks in the clean cold air, with hot tea – preferably Earl Grey – at the end of them.

I don’t know if I’ll ever be a true winter lover, but I am trying to develop a mind for winter, as Adam Gopnik says (to counterbalance the grumbling). It helps to notice and celebrate these daily pleasures.

What are the small delights of winter where you are?

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jer ryder legos Christmas tree

The middle of our Christmas journey is always just that: the middle.

By which I mean: it is messy and rich and full, crowded with some of my favorite holiday traditions and the constantly-in-motion bodies of my two nephews. We are already a little tired, having flown 1,700 miles and driven nearly another 400.

blue sky highway Texas

This year, the drive happened on Christmas Eve – blue sky, long straight highways, Sara Bareilles and Mumford on Spotify, boy-band holiday music when we started to go a little crazy. It ended with my dad greeting us at the door: “We have to leave for church in 45 minutes!”

There was a mad scramble to wrap the last few gifts, kneeling on the guest room floor surrounded by Scotch tape and scraps of wrapping paper. I barely had time to brush my hair before we piled into the car. J and I snapped a photo in front of the lobby Christmas tree before heading inside, hoping we could get a seat – the 4:00 service tends to be crowded.

k j Christmas tree church fbc

Somehow, in spite of the lead-up, I was able to relax then: to exhale into one of my favorite church services of the year. You can count on a few things at my parents’ church: glittering, glorious Christmas trees; Doris on the pipe organ; familiar faces from my childhood and teenage years; and all the verses of as many carols as possible.

candles Christmas Eve silent night fbc

This was Christmas: relishing the third verse of Joy to the World and holding hands with my mother as we lifted our candles during Silent Night. This was Christmas: listening to a string quartet, my husband’s tenor voice, the babbles and cries of so many babies.

This was Christmas: coming, perhaps, no closer to understanding how or why God came into our midst, but choosing to acknowledge and celebrate. We cannot explain, but we rejoice.

moms tree gifts

We headed back to my parents’ for a pre-gift-exchange smorgasbord: cheese and charcuterie, apple slices and carrot sticks, square pretzels topped with chocolate and mint M&Ms. My nephews, decked out in their Santa shirts, could hardly wait to get to the unwrapping, but first we snacked, and then we listened to my sister read the story that still moves me, every year. “For unto you is born this day.” Unto us a child is born, and nothing will ever be the same.

nephews unwrapping presents gifts Christmas

This was the year of the Legos: the boys are obsessed, and they received sets from multiple family members. (Their other favorite thing was a pair of tiny laser guns – a gift for my dad, who still loves to get toys at Christmas.) We had presents that night and stockings the next day, and there were chocolates and new socks, scarves and Starbucks cards and fancy tea (for me).

The weather – after a freak dust-and-rainstorm, complete with tumbleweeds – continued mild, and we spent two afternoons in my sister’s backyard playing football and baseball and climbing on the swing set. We grilled burgers and ribs and did full justice to all the traditional holiday sides (most of them potato-based). I went for a few solo runs in my parents’ neighborhood, looping through the familiar roads under (mostly) bare branches and blue sky.

sneakers rocks running west Texas

The hubs, fighting sinus trouble, won the Best Uncle Award for playing every kind of sport (and Lego) we could squeeze in. My brother-in-law showed off his model train, and more quietly, his grilling skills. I slipped out onto my sister’s front lawn to snap pictures of the sunsets. And the best, as always, was being together.

If you celebrated, I hope your holidays were lovely. Now: onward into 2019.

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wreath tree NYC Christmas

It’s no secret that I love New York City: in the fall, in the spring, even in a sweltering summer heat wave. But I’d never seen the city decked out for Christmas, and I’d always wanted to. So, when my husband told me he had a work conference in Chicago, I made plans for a quick solo trip: 48 hours to wander on my own. It was, as you might expect, glorious.

Every time I go to New York I fall in love. This time, it was with crisp Snapdragon apples and pumpkin cookies at the tiny farmers’ market in Abingdon Square; with the stands of freshly cut Christmas trees on so many corners, tunnels of prickly green. I even fell in love a little bit with the tree-seller who called “Merry Christmas!” and actually tipped his hat.

high line view NYC blue sky

I fell in love with running on the High Line: bold blue skies and views across the Hudson, public art and the sharp angles of skyscrapers and the pounding of my own feet. After my run, I stopped at the Hudson Cafe for oatmeal and a cup of strong Earl Grey, and fell in love with a little dog named Stella. Her owner invited me to sit down and chat, and we talked public transit and city life and unexpected career moves. “How long have you lived in the neighborhood?” I asked her. She grinned, a little wickedly. “A hundred and fifty years!”

Cornelia street cafe awning NYC

I fell in love with the cheery red-striped awnings at the Cornelia Street Cafe just off Bleecker, and with their excellent eggs Florentine (oh my). I fell in love with the stunning array of artisans in the maker space at Chelsea Market, and with the quiet, unpretentious Epiphany Library branch on East 23rd Street. I ended up there when I needed a place to rest my feet and charge my phone (because Hermione is right: when in doubt, go to the library).

red decor west village

I bought a rush ticket to Saturday night’s Live from Here with Chris Thile at the Town Hall. And while I knew I loved Thile’s mandolin music (I’m a Nickel Creek fan from way back), I fell completely in love with his warmth and charm onstage. When he invited the audience to sing along with a few lines from a John Denver song about home, it felt both magical and holy. I’ve been humming those lines ever since.

Some trips to New York are full of new discoveries, and some are about revisiting old favorites. The best are a bit of both, and this was no exception: I made sure to pop into Three Lives for a browsing session and a bit of eavesdropping on the friendly booksellers. I visited Pink Olive and refueled later with Earl Grey at Joe. I went back to Bar Six, back to the Strand, back to the Bryant Park holiday market at the main NYPL branch. I went back, most of all, to the city whose streets I find endlessly fascinating.

I didn’t make it to Rockefeller Center or walk down 5th Avenue to see all the decked-out department stores. But I did get a little of that holiday sparkle. And I did my favorite thing to do in New York: wander to my heart’s content. It was, as always, exhausting and lovely.

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thanksgiving plate

For an invitation over lunch, when I told a friend we weren’t sure of our plans: Come have Thanksgiving with us. 

For a heater that got repaired before the freak Nov. 15 snow and the Thanksgiving cold snap.

For a long run on Wednesday morning with a friend down the trail I love so much, legs pumping and breath puffing, wind and sea and sky.

For the sweet potato recipe I’ve been making for nearly 15 years, in Oxford and Abilene and Boston, which tastes like Thanksgiving to me.

k j trail walk November

For a walk with the hubs on Wednesday afternoon, down the trail (in the other direction) to the local ice cream shop before it closed for the season.

For sunshine on Thanksgiving morning and a warm welcome in East Boston.

For eggs baked in tortilla cups and mimosas at Steve and Chrissy’s, the kids toasting with sparkling apple juice and Christian stalking around in his Grim Reaper costume.

For a moment alone in Lauryn’s kitchen, stirring the gravy and taking a deep breath.

For the hilarity that ensued later when we could barely get the cranberry sauce out of the can. (We had homemade, too, but someone requested the traditional log.)

j carving turkey thanksgiving

For turkey and ham, both carved by my husband; for homemade stuffing and green beans wrapped in bacon; for hot rolls and mashed potatoes and Waldorf salad.

For two long tables in Joe and Lauryn’s living room, football on in the background and the kids running up and down the stairs. For Joe’s invitation to share a bit about the people we love, who bolster us up every day.

For my friend Kelsey’s baby boy, Bennett, born in Texas the night before, healthy and perfect and right on time.

east Boston view sky sunset rooftops

For the breathtaking view over Eastie’s rooftops from Kem and Fabricio’s kitchen window.

For laughter and stories as we all stood around sipping coffee and tea.

For Kem’s delicious dessert spread – seven kinds of pie! – and a bowl of freshly made whipped cream.

For the chance to be welcomed and to welcome others.

pie spread thanksgiving

If you celebrated, I hope you had a lovely Thanksgiving.

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plants sunny window blue sky

Earlier this month, Laura Tremaine hosted her annual #OneDayHH Instagram challenge: documenting the details of an ordinary day. I’ve participated for several years now, and I always enjoy it, both in the moment and looking back on it later.

This fall, I’m doing a lot of moving between my two worlds: Harvard Square, still and always my home, and my newer Berklee neighborhood in Boston’s Back Bay, where I spend most of my workdays now. This year’s #OneDayHH fell on a Thursday when I spent a lot of time in both, so here are some of the highlights from that day.

november sunrise sky

I love watching (and snapping) the sunrise from our kitchen windows while I move around and make tea.

butler stop leaves fall trolley

My commute begins with a quick walk down the street to the trolley stop. The trees were still in full glorious leaf.

mem church leaves fall blue sky Harvard yard

I walked across the Yard to Mem Church for prayers, as I often do…

Darwin's chai berries journal coffee shop

…and then I headed to Darwin’s, to hang out and work for a while. I had chai (of course), Kelly’s homemade apple bread, blueberries and a bit of writing time.

Lowell house window view plants Harvard

Some Thursdays still include that Harvard writers’ meeting on the sixth floor, in one of my favorite places. This is the view of Lowell House from the window near Wendy’s desk.

I dashed to the florist after my meeting and then to Central Square to meet a girlfriend for lunch. I’d been meaning to try Andala Cafe, and it was delicious.

blue bikes central square Cambridge

Boston’s Blue Bikes are making my back-and-forth possible, these days, so I grabbed one for a quick ride back across the river.

Berklee desk flowers computer lamp work

I spent the afternoon partly here, at my desk: flowers, Oxford, tea, cards from friends, emails. I also spent a while in the sunny conference room – see photo at the top of this post. The plants love the sunshine as much as I do.

Berklee banner building Boston

The afternoon also included a walk to the other end of campus: I was supposed to meet a student. We missed each other, but I popped in to see a work friend, grabbed some Earl Grey from Pavement and headed back to the office to wrestle a podcast episode into submission.

prudential Boston sunset back bay

I left the office late and headed to the public library before meeting a friend for dinner at Flour and a wander around Trident. No photos from that part, but we didn’t need any.

I got home late and was exhausted – these dual-world days take a lot out of me. But I am grateful to belong in both places.

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