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Archive for the ‘food’ Category

On a recent Saturday afternoon, I took myself to Boston’s North End for some wandering, before meeting a friend and her kids for ice cream nearby. I’ve long enjoyed an occasional meal out there – the neighborhood is justly famous for its Italian food – but in the 12 years I have spent in Boston, I’ve rarely gone there simply to explore. It felt good to wander around while not worrying about making a dinner reservation, and I found a few new spots to enjoy.

My first stop, as you can tell from the photo, was I AM Books – a delightful Italian-American bookstore, which moved to its new home on Salem Street last fall. I’d never visited its first incarnation, to my shame, but this one is glorious. It has tons of space and an amazing selection of books about Italy, books in Italian, books on Italian food and culture, and books by Italian-American authors. I picked up a food memoir and some expensive (but delicious) chili-spiced chocolate.

The neighborhood has more than a few small shops, and I dropped into several: a funky vintage store, a sweet gift shop, a venerable wine shop with an incredible selection, a market called Going Bananas. There were lots of tourists around (it was a Saturday in July, after all), but it was fun to wander the streets as a local, picking up an item or two for dinner and noting restaurants I’d like to try soon.

My last stop was Salumeria Italiana, which my guy and I discovered only recently. Their sandwiches are delicious (and affordable!), but I was after something else: the briny mixed olives from their deli counter, which G loves. I picked up a bag of Tuscan crackers to go with them, and headed home via the T. I think I’ll save my next North End excursion for when the tourist traffic calms a bit – but it was still fun to explore a corner of my city in a way I rarely do.

What local adventures are you having, these days?

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Last month, my girl Jackie and I took off on a Saturday morning, heading north up Route 1 to Portsmouth, New Hampshire, about an hour from Boston. (After 12 years in New England, my Texas-girl sense of space still marvels that you can get to another state that quickly.)

Our main destination was Book & Bar, which has had a facelift since I was there last, and still feels full of literary possibilities. We browsed for ages, split a salad and some yummy pretzel rolls, had a long chat with one of the managers, browsed some more. Eventually, we left to wander the main drag (and get caught in a rainstorm). But Jackie had another destination in mind to cap off our day: Auspicious Brew, a kombucha brewery in nearby Dover.

I’d only had kombucha once or twice before, and wasn’t sure I liked it: the fermentation can make it taste real funky. But I’d never even heard of a kombucha brewery, and from the moment we walked in, I was utterly charmed.

The brewery is in a former industrial space that reminded me both of Downeast and of the Lower Mills buildings, near where I used to live. It’s bright and funky, with potted plants and twinkle lights and hand-painted signs. We tried flights of kombucha, choosing from the eight (!) flavors they had on tap, and I picked up a mix-and-match four-pack to take home to my guy. You can also order Mexican food from the restaurant down the hall – they’ll even deliver it right to your table. We were hungry after a day of shopping and schlepping, so we took full advantage.

I was surprised at how much I enjoyed the kombucha: it reminded me of the fruity ciders I love, with a little extra funk and some creative flavors. (Concord grape and cardamom – the dark purple one above – was surprisingly delicious.) We sipped and talked and snapped photos and talked some more. I was delighted to try something new and tasty, and it was even more fun to share it with a friend.

What local(ish) adventures and/or fun libations are you having, these days?

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A couple times recently, I’ve heated up a frozen meal for lunch. On the surface, I suspect, that might not seem revolutionary. But it sort of is for me. 

The meals were part of my second shipment from Mosaic (referral link), a plant-based meal delivery service recommended by a friend. Since my divorce, I’ve struggled with cooking for one, especially in the warmer months. I can make big batches of soup in the winter and eat them all week long, but once May hits, I’m sick of soup, and it doesn’t appeal as much in the summertime. So many recipes, like enchiladas and curries and stir-fry, are meant for three or four people (at least), and not all leftovers keep as well as soup. And though I’ve been making Molly’s ratatouille about once a week, I don’t want to burn myself out on it – especially since it’s not even July yet.

My friend Sharon, who also cooks for one on a regular basis, recommended Mosaic, but I was hesitant at first to try it out. For one thing, it felt like an unnecessary expense: I already buy groceries for myself every week and eat out occasionally, and I wondered if putting more dollars toward food would be worth it. I’m aware that I’m super privileged to even be able to consider a fancy frozen-meal service, and I also wondered: isn’t there something I’m missing? Some hidden cache of easy, quick, nourishing delicious recipes that everyone else knows about and I don’t? (If there is, and you know about it, please send it my way – or any particular recipes you love!)

Resorting to frozen meals also, frankly, felt like admitting defeat: like a fundamental failure in taking care of myself. I did a lot of the cooking when I was married, and there were certainly weeks I groused about it, but for some reason, the prospect of cooking dinner for one, an average of five nights a week, every week since my divorce has ground me down. (I do eat with my guy regularly, and occasionally with friends, but everyone’s work schedules plus the pandemic means I can’t count on that more than a night or two each week.) I grew up in a household where my mother insisted on family dinner, and somehow managed to produce healthy, tasty meals night after night. We rarely, if ever, resorted to TV dinners, though we did enjoy the occasional pizza or taco takeout night. So, on some level, even weighing this option felt like a failure. 

I argued myself out of Mosaic for a couple weeks, but after a few (more) evenings of staring morosely at an uninspiring fridge, I decided to give it a shot. And you know what? It’s good. 

The meals are tasty, healthy and hearty (though I’m always keeping an eye on the sodium content, because I know frozen food has tons of it). Some of them, like the noodle bowls, are a little different than what I would make for myself, which is nice. And instead of seeing my use of the service as a failure, I’m trying to embrace it as another tool: a way of caring for myself (albeit a slightly pricey one) for the days when I’m out of leftovers, inspiration, or both. 

Any tips and tricks for a solo cook? Or do you have other prepared meals you really like? 

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Recently, on a mild midweek evening, my guy and I ate dinner at his house and then went for a walk through the neighborhood. We have savored these midweek dinners in this season; they began as taco nights, but have evolved to include lasagna or hot dogs or whatever is in the fridge or pantry on any given week. They also, sometimes, include episodes of Black-ish or The Mandalorian, but on this particular evening, we wanted to wander.

He lives in a mostly residential area, leafy and quiet and hard to get to by public transit; I like it, except that it’s not all that accessible. The houses are a mix of single-family, classic Boston triple-deckers, brick mid-century apartment blocks. There were, on that evening, so many climbing vines and blooming roses and blowsy, beautiful peonies.

We ended up at Kiki’s, a nearby market whose name always makes me smile, because it’s what my nephews call me. I’d never been inside, so we decided to go in for a browse. And to our surprise and my utter delight, we found the aisle you see above: lined with every conceivable kind of digestive biscuit, Cadbury chocolate bar, and various other British treats.

Suddenly I was 20 years old again, standing in the smallish Sainsbury’s on the Woodstock Road in Oxford, or in the tiny post office around the corner on North Parade. I was gazing at the unfamiliar chocolates in their purple wrappers, trying to decide which one to take home for my study session that night. I was in the House 10 kitchen with Jamie, late at night, munching on an orange-wrapped roll of Hobnobs biscuit, talking about dreams and travel and love.

There was more: custard creams and bourbon creams, jammy tea cakes wrapped in marshmallow and chocolate, the orange-scented Jaffa cakes that are my friend Cole’s favorite. I was taken back, too, to the tiny newsstand across from St Anne’s College, Oxford, where you could once buy a bag of broken biscuits (exactly what it sounds like) for a pound or two.

We brought home an assortment of biscuits, plus a Cadbury Mint Crisp bar (still my favorite), and some spicy beef jerky (G couldn’t resist). I was – am – completely surprised to find all these treats in such variety and volume, three blocks from G’s house in Brighton. It kicked my ever-present wanderlust back into gear, of course, but more than that it simply made me happy: so glad to find these goodies that are part of a place I love, and happy to share them with my favorite man.

What local adventures are you having, these days?

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Winter can be a tough season: it’s cold, dark and frequently snowy where I live. This winter, I’m leaning hard into small everyday delights, and reaching for books that help me name and/or discover them.

Hannah Jane Parkinson’s witty, charming essay collection The Joy of Small Things is exactly what it sounds like: a compilation of Parkinson’s columns for The Guardian, celebrating quotidian, idiosyncratic joys. Techno music, red lipstick, night bus trips and cheating a hangover are among Parkinson’s delights, and her unabashed elation inspired me to notice my own pleasures. (I found this one at the wonderful Three Lives in NYC, and it was the perfect book for this season.)

I like cooking year-round, but am especially keen on baking in the winter. This year, I’ve reached for dessert inspiration in the form of Flour by Joanne Chang (which I’ve owned for years) and Nadiya Bakes by Nadiya Hussain, the 2015 winner of The Great British Baking Show. Chang, the founder-owner of Boston-based (and one of my faves) Flour Bakery + Cafe, delivers detailed recipes for her goodies, including raspberry crumb bars, lemon-ginger scones (with three kinds of ginger!) and the chunkiest chocolate-chip cookies. Hussain, sporting bright headscarves, showcases clever new recipes and bold twists on traditional desserts (blueberry scone pizza?!). Both women remind me that you don’t need an industrial kitchen to whip up tasty treats, though I do covet Hussain’s bright pink hand mixer.

Finally, Joyful by Ingrid Fetell Lee provides a tour of what Fetell Lee calls “the aesthetics of joy”: patterns, objects and modes of design that can enhance or inspire delight in our daily lives. Exploring harmony, magic, transcendence and other concepts, Fetell Lee shows how the physical environment (built or natural) can have a profound effect on our moods. As I wait for spring, I’ll be searching out every kind of joy–culinary, aesthetic or simply everyday–that I can find.

I originally wrote most of this column for Shelf Awareness, where it ran a couple of weeks ago.

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How is it November already, y’all? (I say this every month.) I am struggling with what to do with this blog, lately, but still wanted to share what I have been reading during these last few intense weeks. Here’s the latest roundup:

Silence in the LibraryKatharine Schellman
Wealthy widow Lily Adler finds herself dealing with an unwanted houseguest (her father) and the death of a family friend. Naturally, she gets suspicious and starts to investigate. A witty, highly enjoyable Victorian mystery.

All You Knead is Love, Tanya Guerrero
Alba doesn’t want to go live with her estranged abuela in Spain. But once she gets there, she finds her way to a local bakery, a new community, and a way to work through some difficulties. A lovely middle-grade story that gets honest about tough family stuff. I loved the glimpses of Barcelona, too – I visited a long time ago.

Olive Bright, Pigeoneer, Stephanie Graves
As the war with Germany drags on, Olive Bright is determined to do her bit – preferably with the help of her family’s highly trained pigeons. But the clandestine operation that comes knocking at her door isn’t quite what she expected. A really fun WWII story with a plucky heroine – very Home Fires.

Brown Girls, Daphne Palasi Andreades
Narrated in a collective voice, this powerful novel tells the story of a group of brown and Black girls from “the dregs of Queens.” Andreades’ voice is vivid and engaging, and she draws sharp portraits of their individual and shared experiences. So good. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Jan. 4).

The Austen Girls, Lucy Worsley
Jane Austen’s nieces, Fanny and Anna, are finally out in society – but a series of events leave them both wondering if the husband hunt is all it’s cracked up to be. A thoughtful middle-grade take on Austen (who is herself a character) with a slightly improbable but really fun plot. Just what I needed for a few cozy evenings. Found at Dogtown Books.

The Garden in Every Sense and Season, Tovah Martin
I’ve been going sloooooowly through this one since June. Martin takes readers through a year in her garden, through the lens of the five senses. She’s knowledgeable and also breezy (with a love for alliteration) and this was such a fun tour of her garden year. Found at the wonderful Concord Bookshop.

Miss Kopp Investigates, Amy Stewart
After the death of their brother, the Kopp sisters rally around their sister-in-law and her children. Fleurette, the youngest sister, puts aside her dreams of the stage – but soon finds herself involved in some undercover investigative work. I love this series and it was fun to see Fleurette coming into her own. Also found at the Concord Bookshop.

Most links (not affiliate links) are to my local faves Trident and Brookline Booksmith. Shop indie!

What are you reading?

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Casual weeknights around the table: spaghetti, chicken, pizza or takeout Chinese. The kids (and Chloe the cat) drift in and out. We watch videos, laugh, and I’m part of a family. 

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Some mornings need a serious pick-me-up, so I end my run with chai in a blue-stamped paper cup. I miss coffee shops, but enjoy her smile with a sprinkle of cinnamon.

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After a year, they know me there: the brunette in the green coat who loves Gamal. I buy essentials—eggs, yogurt, tulips, soup fixings—and am nourished by kindness and smiles. 

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Brown paper bags hold potent black leaves infused with spice, caffeine and warmth. I wrap my fingers around my favorite mug, breathe in the steam, steep myself in this everyday magic. 

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