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Posts Tagged ‘cafes’

pavement tea cup window cafe Boston back bay

As regular readers know, I have a deep, longstanding and well-documented love affair with Darwin’s, the coffee shop in Cambridge I have adopted as my own.

I started going there – first occasionally, then regularly – not long after I began working at Harvard, and I came to love nearly everything about it, especially the people and the chai.

darwins scone stripe journal coffee shop table

I’m not a coffee drinker, preferring hot tea year-round: ginger peach, Earl Grey, strong black tea with milk when it’s frigid out. But I am a lover of chai lattes, and Darwin’s spicy, house-made chai mix blended with steamed milk (and served with a smile) is my gold standard. I work across the river now, but I still made regular trips to the Square for chai this fall.

The adjustment to a new neighborhood has been, shall we say, difficult. And while I’m planning to continue popping over to Darwin’s when I can, I know I also need to embrace this new place. So I’ve been making a study of chai lattes in the area near my office.

Back Bay has no shortage of cafes, though I tend to avoid Starbucks and Peet’s in favor of independent coffee shops or Boston-based chains. Pavement and Flour, both in the latter category, each have two locations nearby. The baristas (many of them students) are kind, though the chai at both places is too sweet for me. (Flour is a good lunch spot, though.)

To my surprise, Trident, the quirky indie bookstore on Newbury Street, does a decent chai with lots of cinnamon, and I dropped by Caffe Nero last week to sample their chai. (Also too sweet, though I like the atmosphere – and I associate Caffe Nero with Oxford, where I first discovered it.) The Boston Public Library, in addition to having all the wonderful books, does a pretty good chai. And there are a few places I haven’t tried yet.

I’m under no illusions that I will find a new Darwin’s: any coffee shop I love over here will be different, and that’s (mostly) fine. When I really need it, my favorite Darwin’s chai and my beloved baristas are just across the river. (As are my florist, Mem Church and the Cambridge streets I adore.)

Part of this quixotic quest is just giving myself a mission – or something to look forward to – on these bitter winter mornings. And if I can’t find the perfect chai, a few smiles from new baristas are still no small thing.

What helps you feel at home in a new neighborhood?

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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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central park rowboats nyc

Ah, New York in the fall. It makes me want to buy school supplies. (And send bouquets of newly sharpened pencils to charming Internet friends.)

Seriously – the hubs and I hopped down to NYC in mid-October for a long weekend, and it was, as always, delightful.

We arrived Friday night and settled into our apartment – a charming retreat (found via Airbnb) in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn.

living room brooklyn apartment

Our hostess recommended Chavela’s, promising that the Mexican dishes there would meet even our Texan-snob standards. She was right.

chavelas brooklyn interior

Guacamole + sangria + enchiladas = mucho delicioso.

enchiladas chavelas brooklyn

On our way home, we stopped in at Forte, a brand-new cafe (they’d been open three days!) for apple cider and pumpkin cheesecake. Delicious.

katie forte pumpkin cheesecake

Saturday morning found us checking out the Brooklyn Flea – sadly under-attended due to chilly rain. But J did make a new friend.

jer pink elephant brooklyn flea

We dropped in at the Greenlight Bookstore, a favorite discovery on our last trip to Brooklyn, and popped in to see the Greene Grape’s new digs. (And to split a zucchini-cranberry-chocolate-chip muffin. Wow.)

greenlight bookstore brooklyn

We headed to the West Village later, enjoying chai and a lemon scone at Ciao for Now, then wandered the tangled streets for a while. We ended up, not surprisingly, at a bookstore – Three Lives & Co.

three lives and co bookstore nyc

Its cozy space is chock full of fascinating books. I could have browsed for hours.

We then caught the subway up to Lincoln Center, because the on-site library branch had an exhibit I had to see.

count von count sesame street nypl

Blueprints from the original Sesame Street set, sheet music for “Rubber Duckie” and “Bein’ Green”…

rubber duckie sesame street sheet music

…all kinds of cool Henson/Sesame Workshop trivia, and half a dozen of our favorite Muppets (including Super Grover, in the clouds!).

 

super grover sesame street nypl

We left with smiles on our faces (noting on the way out that the exhibit is “brought to you by the letters N, Y, P and L”).

jer cookie monster

After a bit of shopping and wandering in the neighborhood, we walked up to the Upper West Side for dinner at a sidewalk cafe.

piccolo cafe nyc upper west side

I’m still not sure if the maitre’d’s Italian accent was real, but the pasta and wine were delicious.

katie wine piccolo cafe nyc

After dinner, we headed up to West 83rd Street, to a place I’d walked by but never entered.

cafe lalo exterior nyc

For the uninitiated, Cafe Lalo is the setting for an important scene in You’ve Got Mail – when Kathleen Kelly arranges to meet her Internet admirer and is shocked to see her nemesis Joe Fox instead. (The railings outside are the scene of Fox’s mini-freakout before he walks in: “She had to be! She had to be!”)

Our experience wasn’t that dramatic (thank goodness), but the desserts are out of this world.

raspberry delight cafe lalo

Sated and satisfied, we headed back to Brooklyn for a cozy night in.

More New York photos and stories to come.

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radcliffe camera st mary's tower oxford

In case you hadn’t figured it out by now, the entire city of Oxford is my favorite place – the place I want to get back to, all the time. But certain corners of it are particularly dear to me, and during my week in Oxford, I was able to visit several of them.

north parade avenue oxford

North Parade Avenue (above) is just a step from the house where I was staying. It contains a couple of pubs, a creperie, a small convenience store (run by two friendly Middle Eastern men), and On the Hoof – my favorite sandwich shop in the world.

 

on the hoof interior oxford

Debbie, the owner, has run the shop for 17 years, and she remembers hundreds of students who have passed through. The shop’s cheery camaraderie and its sandwiches (my favorites include the Sexy Brazilian, Tom’s Le Club and a bacon-and-egg baguette), are equally wonderful.

A couple of blocks away, University Parks offers walking trails, velvety green lawns (for playing cricket or football or tossing a Frisbee), a few ducks, and many beautiful trees.

university parks oxford

On my last morning in Oxford, I took a long walk in the Parks with Laura and her family, plus Jacque and baby Matilda. We strolled through the dappled sunshine and talked of “cabbages and kings.” It was delightful.

jacque laura ja uni parks

The center of Oxford is full of beautiful colleges, but Radcliffe Square is the heart of it all.

katie radcliffe camera oxford

Surrounded on all four sides by university buildings, this cobblestoned square is full of enchantment.

radcliffe square dusk oxford

I made it a point to pass through as often as possible.

cobblestones oxford silver flats

The University Church of St Mary the Virgin stands on the south side of Radcliffe Square, tall and proud. I’ve climbed its tower many times, but I always love to climb it again and take in the four views of the city, spread at my feet.

view st marys church oxford west side

Laura was my companion that day – it was her first climb.

laura st mary's tower oxford

I can’t visit Oxford without a browse in Blackwell’s, so Jacque and I popped in one afternoon.

blackwells bookshop oxford

I came away with three books: a delightful YA mystery, a grown-up mystery set in Cambridge, and a Tolkien Christmas book that I’m saving for December. I also found this gem:

oxford calling postcard phone box

It’s a wooden postcard and it is just perfect. I had to bring it home with me.

Down Queen’s Lane, just down from Radcliffe Square, sits Queen’s Lane Coffee House, which serves a delectable cream tea.

queens lane cream tea oxford

I came here on a Sunday afternoon for some tea and solitude, sitting at my favorite table in the front window, with its view down the High Street. I sipped tea and scribbled in my journal, and savored every last bite of my scones with jam and clotted cream.

For my last meal in Oxford (for now), we girls (Jacque, Laura and their daughters) headed to the Jericho Cafe. They serve yummy soups, sandwiches and heartier dishes, though eight-year-old Molly was content with a basket of French fries.

jericho cafe sign oxford

After lunch, Laura had to go teach a class, but Jacque and I took the girls to another favorite spot: G&D’s.

katie ice cream g&d's oxford

I couldn’t leave without a scoop of ice cream from this Oxford institution (I’d already had a bagel sandwich, earlier in the week). My Dime Bar Crunch was delectable. (Molly, who got the same flavor, agreed.)

girls ice cream g&d's

“When are you going to go back again?” a friend asked, soon after I got home. My answer?

bridge of sighs twilight oxford

“As soon as possible.”

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A little reflecting at the coffee shop this morning…

reflection darwins cambridge ma

…and a little more in the Public Garden this afternoon.

reflection public garden boston ma

reflection puddle public garden boston ma

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tulips harvard square

My husband is a focused, determined shopper. Like many men I know, he is generally not interested in browsing. I have finally managed to convince him that bookstores were meant to be browsed, though he usually picks out one book and starts reading it while I wander the aisles. But if we’re at the mall, Target, or the grocery store, he’s usually on a mission: how quickly can he get in, find what he needs, and get out?

While I enjoy browsing the racks at my favorite stores, I’m finding my husband’s mindset helpful for my lunch breaks on these frigid winter days. When I don’t want to get up from my desk, I tell myself I have to – because I have a mission.

Sometimes it’s the post office, the bank or the pharmacy. Sometimes I’m on the hunt for a particular book, or a birthday card for a friend. Sometimes I’m in need of a certain item, as I was last week when my sunglasses broke. And occasionally, the mission is simply to go to the Gap or Ann Taylor or Anthropologie, and see what’s new on the sale rack.

In any case, on these days when it’s too cold to wander and tempting to stay inside, it helps to have a goal in mind, an impetus to propel me outside for a bit of exercise and a break from the computer screen. I always feel energized after I get out and about, and I love walking the tangle of streets in Harvard Square. And sometimes – if it’s just too bitter out or I have no particular errand that day – I head to one of my favorite cafes for a cuppa and a little writing time.

tealuxe interior cambridge ma

How do you give yourself a boost on these cold days? Do you find it helps to go on a mission?

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Vienna memories

hofsburg-palace-vienna

Vienna was dark. And cold.

It couldn’t have been dark the whole time I was there, though I don’t remember ever seeing the sun. It was late October, when the light changes suddenly from golden to gray, and there is – also suddenly – much less of it. The only golden color came from the trees in the grounds of the Schonnbrun Palace, and from the lighted shop windows, flaring out like candles against the covering darkness.

schonbrunn-palace-park-trees

I was tired after a long solo trip from Oxford to Salzburg, where I met up with four American undergrads whom I knew only slightly. They were sweet, but their puppy-like enthusiasm soon wore on me, the quiet graduate student with a preference for low-key travel. We all shared a hostel room strewn with backpacks yawning open, clothes hanging loosely off bunk beds, late-night fits of giggles over inside jokes I didn’t quite get.

I wandered the Mirabellgarten with them, even posing for a group photo on the Do-Re-Mi steps, and I took them to the shop I knew that sold beautiful, hand-painted eggs made into Christmas ornaments. But I begged off the Sound of Music tour (I’d done it before, anyway) to sit in a cafe named after Mozart and scribble in my journal while I sipped hot chocolate. By the time we hopped a train to Vienna the next day, I was longing for some extended solitude.

We stuck together that first night and day, settling into our two-room flat, wandering around the Hofburg Palace and getting up early to tour the Schonnbrun. After lunch, we split up, agreeing to reconvene later. The others headed off – I knew not where – and I took several deep breaths, then headed off to enjoy my afternoon alone.

I wandered around the Butterfly House, then entered a spacious cafe lined with dark leather booths and filled with cigarette smoke. Patrons – mostly middle-aged men – lingered, reading folded newspapers at marble-topped tables while sipping small cups of strong coffee. I ordered a hot chocolate, stumbling over the unfamiliar German syllables, and sat there writing in my journal, sipping my drink, as long as I dared.

Later, after wandering through tangled streets, I slipped into a dark church, flickering with candlelight and echoing with the sounds of a Vespers service, just beginning. I slipped a euro coin into a collection box and lit a small tea light, breathing a prayer for my mother, who had had surgery that week, back in the States.

church candlelight vienna

When I left the church, the streets were already dark, shop windows throwing squares of light onto the pavement. Craving warmth, I ended up at another cafe, piling my shopping bags on the leather seat next to me, sipping tea and savoring both a chocolate-covered strawberry and my solitude.

Vienna is hazier than many of the cities I visited during that year in Oxford. The images are smudged around the edges, fogged by the rain that threatened and occasionally poured down from above. I don’t remember much, if any, of the history or the new German words I learned, and I don’t have clear images of entertaining incidents, or a mental map of the city in my head.

But I learned a thing or two from that grey, chilly weekend: namely, that solitude and peace can be found in the least likely places, but sometimes you have to pursue it, to ask for it. I remembered that I don’t always have to tag along with the crowd, that it’s perfectly all right to break away and do my own thing for a while, even if it means they’ll think I’m weird. (I was pretty sure this group of students already did.)

That weekend, I rediscovered the quiet joy of walking a city by myself, answerable to no one and nothing but the rhythm of my own feet pounding on unfamiliar sidewalks. And I learned one thing that did not surprise me at all: Austrian hot chocolate (Tasse Schokolade) is delicious.

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