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Archive for the ‘food’ Category

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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It’s been such a strange year that I almost decided to skip this annual blogging tradition. But – why not? – we can still take stock, even at the end of all these months of isolation. So here we go. In 2020 I have:

  • run probably hundreds of miles through my neighborhood of East Boston
  • gone through three pairs of On Running shoes
  • taken dozens of yoga classes, in the park and via Zoom (and, briefly, in the lovely studio at The Point)
  • gone on so many bike rides with my guy
  • participated in my first protest rides
  • walked with my friend Marisa a few times a month, keeping each other sane while trading news of work and books and life
  • survived divorce court (back in January)
  • worked on campus for two and a half months, worked from home for two months, then been furloughed and eventually laid off
  • covered Berklee’s Dancing with the Stars event, pre-quarantine (so much fun)
  • driven up to Gloucester for a sweet birthday weekend with my guy
  • celebrated a cozy, quiet Thanksgiving, just the two of us
  • spent some time hanging with Chloe, my friends’ kitty
  • read about 220 books
  • adjusted to reading and reviewing ebooks for Shelf Awareness
  • taken Nina Badzin’s wonderful ModernWell writing class
  • drafted a novel during NaNoWriMo
  • tended herbs, geraniums, paperwhites, a fern and an amaryllis
  • sung in a virtual Christmas choir
  • made and delivered numerous lasagnas for my neighbors
  • filled up several journals
  • enjoyed a cozy, sweet Christmas
  • looked ahead to 2021 with tentative hope

Happy New Year, friends. Here’s hoping it brings more light.

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‘Tis the season for treats – because it’s cold outside (good baking weather), because the holidays are coming, and because we are in month fourteen thousand of this pandemic year. (And because we got over a foot of snow here in Boston last night/today.)

I’ve been doing a bit of baking myself – mostly scones and superhero muffins – but have recently found myself the glad recipient of cookies made by friends. A girlfriend handed me a container of margarita shortbread cookies (with plenty of citrus and salt) on a recent walk in Cambridge. The following week, another friend texted to say she’d dropped off a tin of cookies (above) on my front porch. It contained crinkly chocolate cookies dusted with powdered sugar and, underneath, some classic sugar cookies. I stretched them out over nearly a week, to make them last.

The loneliness is hitting hard this week, but I am – as always – grateful for kind gestures from friends, which add sweetness to my life in more ways than one.

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One of the perks of having a partner who works at Trader Joe’s: a front-row seat to all the new fun seasonal products. This summer, it was jalapeño limeade, sparkling coconut water with yuzu and watermelon mint tea, and in mid-September, I walked into the store to find that a pumpkin spice factory had apparently exploded.

Starting on my birthday, we’ve tried all the fall treats: pumpkin ravioli with harvest pasta sauce (delicious), leaf-shaped tortilla chips (good, but kind of strange); pretzels dipped in pumpkin-spice yogurt (a little over the top, but yummy); pumpkin curry simmer sauce (divine); ginger-turmeric granola (I am seriously addicted). Now that we’re into November, the holiday treats have started arriving at TJs, but I’ve still got fresh apple cider in the fridge and a box or two of pumpkin samosas stashed in the freezer.

I’m not a pumpkin spice latte girl (I don’t drink coffee), and I’m not even that into pumpkin pie. But as Anne also noted, leaning hard into the seasonal joy this year felt like a good antidote to election anxiety and pandemic sadness. It even became a joke with one of my girlfriends: “Don’t hold back on the pumpkin [or fall] joy!” And, truly, from harvest spiced nuts to a cranberry goat cheese log, I feel we have made the most of the fall grocery-store delights.

So much of the novelty in our daily lives is missing this year; I am trying to savor the sweet parts of home, but I miss travel and trying new restaurants and having new experiences. A box of pumpkin pancake mix might not make up for all that, but it’s a fun way to bring a bit of novelty and joy into our days. (Especially when paired with ginger maple syrup and a steaming cup of tea.)

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radishes-strawberries

I’ve lived in my little studio in Eastie for a year now, and for most of that time, I’ve been chucking my fruit pits, veggie peels, eggshells and tea leaves (so many tea leaves) into a countertop compost bin I bought from Target. (No perks or affiliate links here; I just did some searching for sleek, easy-to-clean countertop bins, and I like this one.)

I don’t have space (or need) for a big compost bin of my own, but the City of Boston’s pilot compost project, charmingly named Project Oscar, includes a couple of bins down the hill from my house. Every few days, I tie up the green compostable bag filled with flower stems, orange peels and zucchini ends, and carry it down the hill, where I dump it into the bigger compost bin and hope whoever picks it up is hauling it away to some good purpose.

Sometimes, I think about Natalie Goldberg’s chapter on “Composting” in Writing Down the Bones, where she compares writing (and mulling over your lived experiences) to composting our kitchen scraps. “Our bodies are garbage heaps,” she says, “and from the decomposition of the thrown-out eggshells, spinach leaves, coffee grinds, and old steak bones of our minds come nitrogen, heat, and very fertile soil. […] But this does not come all at once. It takes time.”

I like the notion that I’m diverting some of my kitchen leavings away from the landfill, and sending them where they can do some good. Sometimes I wonder who else is tossing their kitchen scraps into the bins over by Maverick Square, and what they will eventually become, and what they will feed. (Sometimes, I simply hold the bag at arm’s length – even pre-compost starts to smell – and promise myself to bring it down to the bins sooner next time.)

I’ve found it difficult, these last months, to create anything of substance, other than book reviews, the occasional meal, and countless cups of tea. I tend to beat myself up about this, but then (sometimes) I remember Natalie and her advice: “Continue to turn over and over the organic details of your life until some of them fall through the garbage of discursive thoughts to the solid ground of black soil.”

I’ll keep doing that. And I’ll keep composting my apple cores and bell pepper stems and those tea leaves, hoping they contribute to a richness I can’t yet see.

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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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