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Archive for the ‘food’ Category

strawberry-science-plaza

The hardest part of quarantine, for me, has been the constant isolation. I live alone, have been working remotely since mid-March (until I was furloughed last month), and have been seeing very few people in person. (I do still get to hug my guy, and walk with a girlfriend or two once in a while. Thank goodness.)

I miss my friends the most, but I’ve also been feeling the loss of what sociologists call “weak ties”: those casual, in-person relationships with people like your barista or librarian or yoga instructor. And I’ve been missing the “third places” where those relationships often take place: communal spaces outside of home and work where people interact and enjoy each other’s company.

All that to say: the Harvard farmers’ market is back, and I am loving it.

radishes-strawberries

The past few Tuesdays, my guy and I have biked across the river to Cambridge, to visit the half-dozen vendors set up on the Harvard Science Plaza. It’s a smaller group than usual, but they are cheery behind their masks, and the offerings are limited but delicious. We sanitize and keep our distance and browse the stalls with our eyes, and choose a few treats to eat on the spot or take home.

I showed up at this market all the time when I worked at Harvard, and that’s where I met Amanda, who makes fantastic tamales, salsas and chili beans. (She’s from Corpus Christi and she knows how tough it can be to find decent Mexican food in New England – plus she’s warm and friendly.) I am downright thrilled to be eating her products again, and I’ve loved seeing her in person, too.

It’s strawberry season in New England, and G and I have bought pints of them recently, plus crisp Boston lettuce and peppery Easter egg radishes. (Aren’t those colors gorgeous?) The latter, it turns out, are delicious with hummus, and I even made pesto with the greens last week. Weather permitting, we’ve sat on the benches or lawn nearby, eating strawberries till our fingers are stained red with the juice. I toss the tamales back in the freezer when I get home, but they never last long – and the strawberries and salsa both tend to disappear within 24 hours.

So many things are still strange and hard, but I am looking for joy where I can find it, these days. And fresh fruit + sunshine + time with my favorite person in a place I love = serious joy, pandemic or no pandemic.

Are you shopping farmers’ markets this summer?

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tawakal-art-tree

One of my favorite things about exploring Eastie this year has been the food.

As a Texas transplant who seriously misses her tacos, I’ve been thrilled to find decent – even delicious – Mexican food in Eastie. But today’s restaurant is something entirely different, something I’d never had before: Somali cuisine, made by the kind folks who run Tawakal Halal Cafe.

Tawakal is a hidden gem, tucked away in a small red house on a corner a few streets away from where I live. I discovered it last spring when I was dog-sitting in Eastie, and now I run by it nearly every morning. My guy and I decided to try it one Saturday, and we fell instantly and completely in love with the combination of flavors. It’s an amalgam of foods I recognize from Middle Eastern and Indian restaurants, and flavors I wasn’t familiar with before.

 

book water glass lunch Somali food

During quarantine (and especially during Ramadan, which fell during April and May), Tawakal has been providing hundreds of meals to local families struggling with job loss and food insecurity. The Boston Globe did a great Q&A with Yahya Noor, the owner, a few weeks ago. I love that Tawakal is a family business that really cares about the community, and the food – as I’ve already said – is delicious.

I haven’t been eating out much lately, but Tawakal is still a staple: my guy requested it for his birthday dinner last month, and I’ve been going by every couple of weeks to pick up takeout. My favorite dishes are the falafel biryani and the beef kabab biryani (pictured above), both with two kinds of hot sauce and plenty of rice and hummus. (The sambusas, also pictured above, are great too.) G is partial to the Malay fish spaghetti and the goat biryani. We both love the hot, spicy shaah (chai-like tea) they make, and he’s also a fan of the ginger coffee.

tawakal-art-hope

Most of all, I love the warm welcome we always get, and I’m looking forward to the day we can sit at a table again, near the open windows, and eat our lunch and chat with the staff.

Have you ever had Somali (or other East African) food?

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red-kettle-stoveIn these strange stay-at-home days, I’m spending (even) more time in my kitchen than ever before.

In my little studio, the kitchen area (read: stove, oven, sink, cabinets, fridge) is ranged along one wall of the apartment, close to the table where I spend my workdays. As I try to settle into some sort of a rhythm, I’ve been noticing how my kitchen routines have changed.

kitchen-eastie-morning

My red teakettle is getting a lot of use: I fill it up to half a dozen times a day. Instead of walking over to the shared kitchen in my office building, I’m getting my constant water refills from the kitchen sink. I am eating a lot fewer granola bars for snacks, and more yogurt with granola, or slices of toast with fruit or cheddar or avocado. And while I like to cook normally, now I’m cooking (and/or reheating leftovers) for almost every meal. My Tupperware containers are not getting their usual workout, but my pots and pans are getting washed more often, and my countertop compost bin is filling up much faster.

I’m still using my travel mugs sometimes for my morning walks, and I’m baking a batch of scones or superhero muffins nearly every week. I’ve been cooking mostly soups, stews and other hearty dishes that will last me for several meals, though occasionally I’ll fry up a couple of eggs or make some pasta. I’m also trying to plan ahead for my weekly shopping trips to Trader Joe’s, though I can also get some essentials at the bodega if I run out.

Mostly, it’s a mindset shift: I can’t count on popping in somewhere to grab an ingredient or a meal on the go (not that I’m on the go, much). It’s learning to be here now, as frustrating as that sometimes is (and washing so many more dishes). It’s giving thanks for the sunlight that often streams in the kitchen windows. And it’s reminding myself (again) to fill up that water glass.

How have your kitchen rhythms changed in these times?

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Now more than ever, I enjoy cooking, especially in the colder months: hearty soups, crumbly scones, buttery scrambled eggs (with endless cups of tea). Last July, though, I moved into a studio apartment during an unusually hot Boston summer. After weeks of takeout, stovetop huevos rancheros and ready meals from Trader Joe’s, I needed some new kitchen inspiration.

Enter Cooking Solo, Klancy Miller’s brilliant, colorful cookbook about not only feeding yourself, but enjoying it. I’ve made her risotto, her lemon pancakes, her spicy coconut-sweet potato soup… the list goes on. But more than her recipes, I love Miller’s approach: she insists, as a longtime single person, that investing the time and effort to feed oneself well is worth it. As a recent divorcée, I need that reminder on the regular.

My success with Miller’s recipes inspired me to flip back through some perennial favorites, like Molly Wizenberg’s A Homemade Life. I bake Wizenberg’s Scottish scones at least twice a month, but recently made her ratatouille for the first (and second, and third) time in years. Like Wizenberg, when I am dining alone on something that delicious, “I lick my knife until it sparkles, because there’s no one there to catch me.”

For a broader perspective on solo cooking, I turn to Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant, an eclectic essay collection edited by Jenni Ferrari-Adler. Inspired by Laurie Colwin’s eponymous essay (which kicks off the anthology), these pieces, some with recipes, recount the delightful, the depressing and the quirkily indulgent aspects of setting a solo table. Many of the contributors recall solitary meals (or seasons) with deep fondness, even nostalgia. Cooking for one can feel like a depressing prospect, but these books help remind me that there’s a wealth of flavor, adventure and–yes–true sustenance to be found at a table for one.

I originally wrote most of this column for Shelf Awareness, where it ran at the end of March. I submitted it before the virus hit, but it’s more applicable in some ways now than ever.  

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Hello, friends. Here we are, staring down week 5 (say it ain’t so) of what my former colleague Juliette Kayyem calls “the now normal.” It is also Easter Sunday, and the middle of Passover – and if you are celebrating, I hope you’re finding ways to do that.

These days are edged with worry and fear and loneliness, but also deep gratitude, and I still believe the small good things are always worth sharing and celebrating. In my quarantine stories I am trying to be honest about all of it, but today I really want to focus on the good.

So, even while this is hard (and it is, y’all), here is what’s saving my life now.

  • Watching the birds in the apple tree out back – there’s a pair of cardinals, several blue jays, some tiny house wrens, what I think are yellow finches.
  • That same tree, leafing out and getting greener every day (with a few blossoms showing up, too).
  • Online yoga – with Adriene, the crew at Savin Hill Fitness, or Renee at the Point. My old green yoga mat is getting a lot of use these days.
  • Daffodils, crocuses, early tulips and cherry trees, which are blooming away, oblivious to anything but the light and the warmer weather.
  • The saucer magnolias in the neighborhood, which are pure pink-and-white glory.
  • Tea in my favorite mugs – I stocked up on my favorites from MEM Tea just as all this hit.
  • Texts from friends near and far, FaceTime with my sister, phone calls with friends and my parents, and the occasional video message on Marco Polo.
  • Running – my usual route along the harborwalk and greenway here in Eastie is keeping me sane.
  • Walks, when I’ve been inside all day or even just for a couple of hours.
  • Juliette’s smart, pragmatic commentary in the Atlantic and on Twitter.
  • Occasional trips to the bodega for necessities and human contact.
  • Fresh flowers – my beloved florist has closed for now, so I’m getting both my flowers and groceries at Trader Joe’s.
  • The #LivefromHome music performances online, spearheaded by Chris Thile and multiplying beautifully.
  • This video, made by students from Berklee, where I work – it has gone viral in the best way, and it’s sweet and wonderful.
  • Good books: the last few (for now) physical review copies, the last of my library stack, a reread of Rilla of Ingleside.
  • Seeing my colleagues’ faces during our weekly Zoom meetings.
  • Long walks and bear hugs with my guy.
  • Sidewalk chats with my friends in the neighborhood – we are all staying home/staying six feet apart, but it’s good to be together in person.

What is saving your life in these strange days? Please share, if you like.

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One of the things that surprised me when this pandemic hit was the grocery store panic.

I understand a bit of stocking up, especially if you’re not going to go out as much for a while. (I come from Texan and Midwestern farming families, and one of my grandmothers had a basement stocked with enough canned goods to weather the apocalypse. After my Papaw’s funeral, when Aunt Carmen and I cleaned out the fridge, we had to sneak a jar of long-expired mayonnaise and another of salad dressing out the side door so Mimi wouldn’t see us.)

Anyway, in the face of looming quarantine, it only made sense for people to buy a bit more than usual, if they could. But I was shocked by the stories of empty shelves and long grocery lines, and especially flummoxed by the toilet paper hoarding. It dismayed me, too: I felt like we were giving into our worst impulses before things had even gotten really bad.

When the big stores have been short on some supplies – even Trader Joe’s was low on pasta sauce and toilet paper, for a while – the little bodegas in my neighborhood have still had the essentials. I’ve been dropping in once or twice a week, for eggs or peanut butter or a red bell pepper, and a little chitchat with the guy behind the counter. The TV is usually playing something in Spanish, and I’ll see a kid coming in to buy a candy bar, or a Latina grandmother shopping for dinner.

I don’t speak (much) Spanish, but I grew up hearing it on the street: Spanish is the first language of so many folks who live in Texas. Because Eastie is home to lots of immigrants from the Caribbean and other parts of Latin America, I hear a lot of Spanish spoken here, and it feels like home.

I’m grateful for the convenience of the bodega, the chance to support a small business, and the good chance that they’ll have what I need (including toilet paper). It makes me feel a bit more a part of the neighborhood, and it reminds me that so often, what we need is right here.

(Photo is of Molly Wizenberg’s roasted eggplant ratatouille, which I have made twice recently and am totally making again this weekend.)

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Yesterday, I went to Trader Joe’s to do my weekly grocery shop, as I’ve been doing for the past few weeks. Boston has several Trader Joe’s locations, one of which – the tiniest one – is down the street from my office. (I’ve grown used to dropping in there a few times a week for snacks and essentials, and I miss it, these days.)

My guy works at the newest TJ’s, in the seaport district, across the water from where I live in Eastie. It’s comforting, on the days when I know he’s working a morning shift, to look out my kitchen windows and know he’s there on the other side of the harbor.

Grocery shopping looks different these days: the line to get into the store stretches down the block, with customers standing in ones and twos, six to eight feet apart on the sidewalk. There is still no toilet paper (I’ve been getting mine from the bodega near my house). This week, the employees and many of the customers wore masks.

When I moved to Boston, I hadn’t spent much time at Trader Joe’s (they still haven’t made it to West Texas). My friend Fei Ying, who lived near the big TJ’s store in Brookline, used to rave about everything from their potstickers to their produce, and I teased her about her “addiction.” I get it now: the selection is good, the prices are fair, the employees are friendly, and the products are delicious. (My sister is obsessed with their Marcona truffle almonds; I’m partial to their crumbly English cheddar and their dark chocolate peanut butter cups.)

I came home yesterday with a backpack and two bags full of produce, baking staples and other essentials – plus two bunches of purple tulips, which are now split among three different vases in my apartment. In these strange days, grocery shopping feels both normal and decidedly off-kilter. But I’m grateful for a store that has what I need, that’s relatively easy to get to without a car, and where I am sure of a welcome from someone I love. And I owe – we all owe – the staff and managers a deep debt of gratitude.

How are you grocery shopping (or not) in these times?

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One of the toughest things, so far, about quarantine is not being able to hang out with my friends.

I live alone, so I really rely on my friends in the neighborhood, my classes at the nearby yoga studio and my interactions with colleagues for human connection. We are doing the best we can – Zoom meetings and phone calls and virtual yoga (so much virtual yoga), but I miss just sitting in a friend’s living room, or inviting someone over for tea.

The other night, my friend Lauryn had a brilliant idea: a virtual baking date via FaceTime. We decided to start with Molly Wizenberg’s Scottish scones, about which I have raved here more times than I can count. They were on her blog a million years ago, then appeared in her first book, A Homemade Life – which, in addition to being gorgeous and funny and delicious, is one of the books that landed me my Shelf Awareness review gig. (I had to write a few sample reviews, and Marilyn, my editor, was already a Wizenberg fan – she asked me about Molly’s banana bread when she wrote me back to tell me I’d gotten the job.)

Anyway, I sent Lauryn the recipe and (for good measure) a photo of the ingredient list, and we gathered bags of flour and sugar and cartons of half-and-half and mixing bowls, and I propped up my phone inside the kitchen cabinet so it wouldn’t keep falling over. And we baked, with her husband and kids moving in and out of the frame, and me dashing to the cupboard to dig out the baking powder, and both of us struggling to scrape the zest (lemon for her, orange for me) off our respective graters.

We lost the connection a few times, and had to repeat ourselves more than once, but we caught up a bit, about the day and the weather and this weird new life we’re all living. And it helped. And the scones – need I say it? – were delicious. Mine (with dried cranberries and orange zest) are above; Lauryn’s (with lemon zest and crystallized ginger) are below.

Are you baking in these days, friends? (My friend Jess calls it “distractibaking,” and I suspect she’s not alone.) Do share, if you are. Be well.

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It’s become a midwinter tradition: every February, dozens of us link up with Anne Bogel to answer a brilliant question (from Barbara Brown Taylor): “What is saving your life now?” I make these lists periodically throughout the year (the act of making them can itself be lifesaving), but I always need the reminder in midwinter. So here, as we head into February, is what’s saving my life now:

  • The witch hazel blooming in the Prudential Center courtyard: a bright, hopeful neon yellow.
  • Related: Tuesday indoor picnics in the Pru with someone I love.
  • I say this every winter: all. The. Clementines.
  • Maggie Smith’s poetry, especially “Bride,” which appeared in the New Yorker recently and is now taped to my bathroom mirror.
  • My winter uniform: fleece-lined tights + black Clarks ankle boots + dress (denim, black or striped) + black quilted vest + scarf.
  • That stunning red amaryllis in my kitchen, above.
  • My umpteenth reread of the Harry Potter series. (Starting Deathly Hallows now.)
  • Yoga at The Point every week, the occasional boot camp class there, and being recognized when I walk in the door.
  • Shafts of full-on sunlight in the conference room at work, on the sidewalk and really wherever I can get them.
  • The wisdom in Sheryl Sandberg’s book Option B.
  • Making soup in batches for work lunches throughout the week.
  • Shalane Flanagan’s superhero muffins.
  • Slathering on the hand lotion and moisturizer (hello, dry winter skin).
  • Acing a freelance writing assignment last week.
  • Pulling out a beloved banana bread recipe.
  • Sunrise over the harbor.
  • Washing a sinkful of dirty dishes: reliably satisfying.
  • Making a few fun plans with friends.
  • Finding welcome, and being welcomed – both are such a gift.

What’s saving your life these days? I’d love to hear, if you’d like to share.

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cobble hill Brooklyn NYC

One of my favorite things about NYC: there are endless new neighborhoods to explore.

I love returning to my well-loved haunts there. I’ve spent some time in Fort Greene, and I was happy to revisit Park Slope (especially the Chocolate Room) on this most recent trip. But on Saturday, I decided to walk a few blocks west and wander Cobble Hill – partly motivated, you will not be surprised, by a bookstore.

Novelist Emma Straub opened a bookstore, aptly named Books Are Magic, a while back. It was an easy walk from my Airbnb, so I headed that way, grabbing an iced tea and popping into a few shops. I bought a long green dream of a dress at Something Else, then headed for the bookstore. It was well-lit and well-stocked, a little bit funky and yes, a little bit magical.

I browsed for a while, dipping into novels and mysteries, and saying “amen” to a fellow customer who was recommending Anne Lamott to her friend. (Bird by Bird!) I picked up a fun kids’ mystery featuring Agatha Oddly, then went down the street for an early dinner at Jolie – the only French-Mexican bistro I’ve ever seen.

Even though I’m living in Eastie, land of delicious tacos, I rarely pass up an opportunity for good Mexican food. The enchiladas, the fresh guacamole, and the late afternoon light at Jolie were all perfect.

My next stop was Whisk, which I discovered a while back via their store near the Flatiron Building in Manhattan. That location has closed, but their main store is in Cobble Hill, so I popped in to buy a couple of new tea strainers. (I can always use them.) From there, I headed for the subway and my Saturday-night plans: Come From Away, which I adored.

I was a little bit worried about coming to Brooklyn: it holds some tender associations for me. But I was very glad to discover a new pocket of it for myself, and make some new memories.

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