Boston gets called a lot of things, but friendly generally isn’t one of them. Ours is not a city of brotherly love, and outsiders frequently complain about the aloofness of my brethren. Patriots’ Day is the day that proves them all wrong.
A local holiday that commemorates the start of the Revolutionary War, Patriots’ Day is the day that Boston comes out to celebrate. It’s school vacation week and a state holiday. Spring is in the air. Men dressed in period costumes march to Lexington to reenact battles (and Paul Revere’s famous ride). The Red Sox play at home. Thousands of runners from across the globe descend on the city for the Boston Marathon. And thousands upon thousands come out to cheer them on. I tell people all the time that Patriots’ Day is my favorite day. It’s a day that this small and sometimes parochial city becomes truly world-class.
Runners will tell you that Boston is the marathon that you don’t want to wear headphones for. Spectators line the course from Hopkinton to Back Bay. Families sit on front lawns and watch the runners go by. Children offer oranges. The women of Wellesley College offer kisses. It seems like all of Boston is packed into the last half mile, cheering wildly as the runners take a right on Hereford and a left on Boylston for the homestretch. Five years ago I moved into an apartment just blocks from the finish line, and my sister and I started a tradition of heading there each Marathon Monday to cheer. We’d get there early to get a good spot, and yell ourselves hoarse, shouting from the moment the wheelchair athletes passed by until the number of runners slowed to a trickle.
Boston loves its marathon. In a city where neighborhood divisions run deep and racial tensions still linger, the marathon is something that everyone can get behind. As a runner, people often assume I’m training for the race when they see me out. Last year, an old man in South Boston wished me luck in the marathon as I ran along Carson Beach. A few weeks ago, I was stopped by an African-American woman in Jamaica Plain who wanted to know if I was training for the marathon. In the days leading up to the race the elite runners arrive in town and often head out on the same paths I use for my training. Imagine going to shoot hoops at your local park and having Paul Pierce show up. It’s that thrilling.
This year, I decided that rather than be a spectator, I’d get involved in the race. I signed up to volunteer, and recruited 50 friends, mostly from my running group, to man a hydration station at mile 18, in the midst of one of the marathon’s most grueling stretches. Yesterday, we made our way to Newton where we set up tables and poured enough water and Gatorade to quench the thirst of 27,000 runners. The experience was both inspiring and humbling. Runners old, and young, from Japan to Brazil to England to Kenya. People who looked like they were having the best race of their lives, and people who looked like they’d be happy to simply finish. What surprised me most was how grateful they were to us, shouting their thanks as they took the cups from our hands.
We were nearly finished cleaning up when we got word of the explosions. Many of us were planning to head to the finish line. Instead, we gathered at a friend’s apartment, watched the President on TV, let our loved ones know were were OK, and scrolled social media for updates. And just as with every other Marathon Monday, I was proud of my city. I was proud of the people who rushed towards the scene to help those injured. I was proud of residents opening their homes to stranded runners. I was proud of the people who offered money, clothes, rides, anything they could.
There’s no doubt that next year’s Boston Marathon will be the biggest race in its history. In the coming weeks, we will all find ways to cope, contribute, and honor those lost. For me, it will start with the simple act of lacing up my shoes and going for a run.
March seemed to come like a lamb and go like a lion. Four days sunning myself in Miami ruined me for winter: I came back whining about the cold, and may have skipped a few early-morning workouts as a result. But man, even after the crocuses sprung there was snow and sub-20 degree mornings. Enough.
I took a little running break after my half-marathon in Miami. I still climbed stairs and ran hills and did bootcamp, but there were no runs over four miles. I’d also decided that after I was finished with the races I’d give juicing a whirl, so I did.
It seems I’ve been on a roll with proving my younger self wrong. Never did I ever think I’d take up running, biking, or fishing. I never dreamed I’d give up booze for three months. And I certainly never thought I’d go five days without meat, or bread or … solid food. The decision came on gradually. I was curious if I could last more than a few hours. Would I feel different? Worst case, I figured I could always quit.
A few weeks ago, I ordered a juicer, and started messing around with fruits and vegetables. I read some blogs, gathered some recipes, and decided to try a three-day juice “cleanse.” I also bought a whole lot of fruit.
Under normal circumstances my eating looks something like this:
- 6 a.m. eat a banana and drink water before workout
- 8:30 a.m. latte with 2% milk (about 1 cup total)
- 10 a.m. Greek yogurt. Maybe granola.
- 12:30 lunch: salad with grain. Sandwich/leftovers. Piece of fruit.
- 2:30 Crazy cravings start kicking in. I am starving. Cue cheese and crackers, chocolate, peanut butter filled pretzels. Sometimes all three.
- 5 p.m. Hungry again. Snack.
- 6 p.m. dinner. Protein, vegetable, carb. I try to put more vegetables on my plate than anything else.
While I generally “eat clean” I also have a lot of days where I struggle. Some days I feel like I’m starving no matter how much I eat. I crave chocolate, bread and cheese, especially when it’s cold out. I don’t drink enough water.
My days with juice looked like this:
- 6 a.m.- drink 8 ounces of juice. Go to workout.
- 8:30 a.m. latte (I couldn’t give up coffee.)
- 10 a.m. 16 ounces juice
- 12:30 p.m. 16 ounces juice
- 2 p.m. 16 ounces juice. Eat a carrot/apple.
- 6 p.m. 16 ounces juice
Drink a lot of water.
drink the rainbow
The first day was the hardest, but I never actually felt hungry while juicing. I also never had any of the crazy cravings that normally plague me. I didn’t even THINK about candy or grilled cheese or chips. Occasionally, I would feel an urge to EAT something, but it seemed to be driven by a primal urge to chew than an actual hunger. Hence the apple/carrot a day. I also managed to maintain my workout schedule, though I don’t think I exercised with the same intensity as normal. Yes, I lost weight. And yes, I gained it all back as soon as Easter hit and my mom showed up with a basket full of peanut butter cups and wine. Sigh.
What did I drink? I tried to mix it up, creating my own recipes, and using recipes from other blogs. Some juices were lovely, and a few were really gross, but eventually I tweaked everything to my taste (read: love of kale/beets/ginger).
juice at work
My hypothesis is that the juice nutrient-blast does something to quell my other cravings. But juicing is also kind of boring, in terms of gastronomy. I missed the excitement of creating and eating food, the fun of trying new things. And my social life? Almost nil. So now, I’m trying to focus on incorporating juice into my diet, sort of as a snack replacement. When I get the afternoon munchies, I try and sip a juice slowly rather than diving into the office pretzel bin. If I’m still hungry, I have a piece of fruit. I don’t know that I’ll ever be able to 100 percent keep away from the junk, but this seems like a step in the right direction.
A lot of the recipes I followed came from this blog post, which includes a convenient shopping list. But I also tweaked and tailored things, which you’ll see below. A note: your juice yield will depend on a number of things, including the efficiency of your juicer and the size and freshness of your produce. Adjust accordingly.
1 large beet
2 granny smith apples
1 knob of ginger the size of your thumb
2 stalks celery
1 handful kale
2 lemons, peeled with minimal white pith
1 handful kale
2 green apples
1 cucumber, skin on
ginger, if desired
1/3 pineapple, skin removed
handful mint leaves
1-2 green apples
2 grapefruit, peeled with minimal white pith
2 oranges, peeled with minimal white pith
1 granny smith apple
2-3 carrots, top and tip removed
As things go, I generally have good luck when I go to great restaurants. I manage to get reservations at hard to book spots, get invited into the kitchens of masters, and generally eat well. But the karma scales tipped into the other direction last week when I ate at Michael’s Genuine in Miami. I won’t bury the lede: it was the worst restaurant experience I can remember.
Miami often gets trashed for being all style and little substance, and as restaurants go, Michael’s Genuine was supposed to be the institution that bucked that trend. While others were focused on ambience and presentation, Michael’s focused on food that was “homemade, unpretentious, delectable, with an emphasis on great local ingredients.” Chef Michael Schwartz supposedly did such a good job with the concept that he took home the James Beard Foundation’s Best Chef: South Award in 2010.
I visited Michael’s Genuine shortly after it opened in 2007, and was impressed. I had some sort of mussels in tomato broth over black rice, and it was phenomenal. My memories were so positive that the second thing I did after booking my trip to Miami was make a reservation there. I couldn’t believe how the place had changed.
obligatory menu shot
Our reservation was for 8:30 on a Thursday— peak dinnertime in Miami, but nothing an established institution can’t handle. I’d requested an outdoor table, and wasn’t thrilled when the hostess informed me that we’d be sitting inside, but I figured that it would be fine. It wasn’t. We were seated at a four-top that had been separated into two two-tops— with about six inches of space between our tables. When the woman at the next table wanted to use the bathroom, I had to get up. When they left and a new couple came, I had to get up. Servers reached across my food to clear the next table’s dishes, pour more water, and give them their check. At one point, the other couple’s food was set on my table until I told them it wasn’t mine. The food was promptly taken away and reappeared 10 minutes later, cold, but in front of the right guests.
Though there seemed to be an abundance of servers, bus boys and wait staff, everyone was harried. I would have told the servers who brought the wrong food to check with the next table, but they were gone before I could get a word out.
Our table had a view of the kitchen, which I usually love, but in this case it just made me more uncomfortable. One of the line cooks was clearly pissed off, and a sous chef spent the better part of 20 minutes cracking eggs into a bowl and then fishing out the yolks with his hands. Ever try to eat while you watch snotty eggs drip through someone’s fingers? Yeah, you don’t want to.
And the food? It wasn’t worth the abuse of sitting at that table. A baked farm egg was pretty good, but nothing I couldn’t make at home. Same with a greasy faro salad. An $18 shiitake mushroom and leek pizza arrived cold, somehow burnt on the edges and undercooked in the middle, and topped with raw mushrooms. Similarly, our cauliflower was burned and raw at the same time, tasteless despite the green sauce it was bathed in. The pork belly that is supposed to be one of the Schwartz’s signature dishes came with a kimchi that was an insult to the world of fermented vegetables: a pile of cold cabbage doused in red pepper.
I would have tried dessert, but our waiter disappeared for 40 minutes: from the time I got my appetizer until after our dinner dishes were cleared. I finally got so exasperated I told a busboy to please just bring the check. (They did take the pizza off the bill when we complained, but our server was otherwise unapologetic).
What happened to a place that held such promise? How did I have such an across the board bad experience? Did the staff just get complacent? Was the management focused on other things? Are James Beard Awards just not that hard to get? I’ve been to diners with better food, and dive bars with better service. I’m still stunned.
Not wanting to just post something negative, I tweeted Michael’s Genuine’s PR person and Chef Schwartz to try to talk to them about my experience, but they haven’t responded, and the restaurant’s web site lists no email contact. The lack of response just reinforces my bad feelings about the place… it kind of seems like they genuinely don’t care.
Much was made last August of Julia Child’s centennial…. and though I enjoyed reading the tweets and tributes, it seemed cliche to chime in just then. However, last week I made my way over to Harvard’s Schlesinger Library to check out their exhibit “Siting Julia,” which traces the chef’s path through various sites and times. A Cambridge resident, Julia was a friend of Radcliffe, and left her papers (including a 4,000 volume cookbook collection) to the Schlesinger. Their site has some wonderful photos of the famous chef throughout the years, as well as audio of her talking about why she things the preservation of culinary history is important. (There’s also a great story about a symposium held in honor of Julia’s centennial here, which contains some great photos and video.)
Walking through the display cases of letters, photographs, and accouterments, I was reminded of why I’d felt a kinship with Julia. Growing up, my sister and I weren’t allowed to watch much besides public television, so Sesame Street, Wild America, and the French Chef pretty much dominated our viewing time. At some point, my sister and I devised a cooking game, where one of us would play chef (imitating Julia) and the other would have to play the piece of food she was tenderizing, chopping and flambéing, which really served as a thinly veiled excuse to beat each other up. And parents worry about violent video games…
A few years ago I read My Life in France, Julia’s account of some of her most formative years. I was struck by the fact that this woman revered as a cultural icon never set out to do that. There was no grand life plan; she was in her mid-30s before she even learned to cook. All of the fears and worries I had about not achieving life goals by the age of 30 sort of vaporized. I didn’t need to have it all figured and planned, in fact, I might have more fun if I simply followed my interests and let myself enjoy things.
“I want something in which I will grow, meet many people and many situations,” Julia wrote to Paul Child shortly before they were married. She was 34 then.
Julia Child takes on the lobster
Of course, we all know how the story ends.
“Siting Julia” is on display at the Schlesinger Library Monday through Friday, 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., through March 22. Harvard has also digitized some 4,000 images from the Julia Child papers. You can browse them here.
Sometime between eating croissants and biking up mountains in Spain last summer, Ross, Anne, and I decided that we should all go backcountry skiing together. Often, these are the kind of plans that evaporate as soon as the words are out, but in this case I got an email a few months later saying that the trip was being booked and I should be there.
I’ve never backcountry skied. I haven’t camped in years. I’ve never hiked with more than a day pack. And yet I signed up for this multi-day adventure almost without a second thought. For the past few years I’ve been trying to make an effort to see more of the country: Montana, San Francisco, Colorado, places that tend to get overlooked for Spain, Italy, and England. This trip would give me the opportunity to visit some new places, and provide me with a new physical challenge. Why not?
The first thing I did was email Anne and ask what kind of backpack she had. Then I went to Sierra Trading Post and bought the same one. I started wearing it to my Wednesday workouts at Harvard Stadium, filling it with big cookbooks, quarts of water, and cast iron frying pans. People thought I was badass, but I just didn’t want to be the one in our ski group who held everyone back.
Backcountry skiing is like regular skiing in that you occasionally ski down a mountain. But that’s where the similarities end. Rather than riding a cozy gondola, or chair to the top of the mountain, you climb it. In your skis and boots. At altitude. There are no lodges to buy hot chocolate at, no fires to warm up by. Instead, you carry a thermos, hand warmers, and everything else you need for the day. With no ski patrol to rely on, you prepare for the worst, wearing an avalanche beacon, and carrying a shovel and probe just in case. All of this you carry on your back.
Day 1: en route to the yurts with gear
We assembled on Day 1 and met the rest of our group. There were 10 of us in all, plus two guides and a porter. Anne and I were the only girls. After doing a beacon check (to make sure everyone’s beacon can find everyone else’s beacon in the event of an avalanche), we set off for camp, a small cluster of yurts set in the midst of the McCully Basin, a four mile climb that rose 1,800 feet. Our home for the trip was a 16-foot yurt outfitted with cots, sleeping bags, and a wood stove.
Despite the primitive conditions, we were almost always warm and toasty. Kettles set on top of the wood stove in the cook yurt meant coffee, tea and cocoa were easily accessible and layers made it easy to adjust body temperature. Pretty much the only time I was chilly was a) using the bathroom and b) in the middle of the night when the fire needed to be stoked.
Yurt life was kind of interesting. Cohabitating with strangers in the middle of the wilderness instills a kind of kinship that you don’t get in the outside world. There’s no TV or gadgets to get lost in. Each night we’d sit around the fire, eating supper and telling stories. Those who could would strum a small guitar, and the rest of us would listen appreciatively. Being far away from anything else, we had to trust one another in a way that you don’t in normal life. If there had been an avalanche, or some other kind of emergency, we’d rely on each other to survive. One guy who I was sure was a jerk was the first one to offer help when I started getting blisters from my ski boots. He sat with me for 30 minutes one morning, cutting moleskin and offering advice on how best to patch them up. Despite being with eight guys, there was no talk of sports, unless you count skiing. I cracked up while they compared notes on where they bought their raw milk and how best to “grow chickens.” Welcome to the west, I suppose.
Why go through all this trouble? First, we were in the midst of some of the most gorgeous mountains I’ve ever seen. I kept joking that I felt like I was in a Coors commercial.
Seriously, these were the mountains of my dreams. Snow covered, jagged peaks that make you feel like a tiny speck of dust. Every vista seemed more beautiful than the one before, and we had this whole area practically to ourselves.
The second thing that made it worth it was the snow. There was six-foot base of snow on the ground, and about six inches of fresh powder fell our first night there. It was like movie snow, so fluffy and light. Having grown up skiing on the East Coast where ice and hard pack rule, skiing here was a fantasy world. We’d climb an area and ski down, then move to another area for fresh snow. We never skied the same thing twice, and our tracks were always the only ones on the mountain. Pretty sweet.
The other thing that was great about all this climbing was that we had to eat almost constantly. You burn though so many calories moving and trying to stay warm, it’s almost impossible to overeat. With my food fears in full-on panic mode, I made sure to bring lots and lots of snacks: a King-sized Reese’s, two Toblerones, a package of beef jerky, half a dozen Kind bars, a package of smoked almonds, and a batch of chunky granola. I think I added 10 pound to my pack, but it was worth it to know that I wouldn’t starve.
I’ve been working on my granola recipe for the past few months, and after several failures and much tweaking, I think I’ve found a winning recipe. Granola can be finicky stuff; depending on the recipe it can come out of the oven bitter, the texture of loose gravel, or simply bland. Yet I like the idea of making it, being able to customize it to your own tastes and preferences- good granola can be heavenly. I prefer mine chunky, with raisins and a variety of nuts and seeds. While many will tell you the secret to chunky granola is adding fat, I wince at the idea of adding a stick or more of butter to mine. Instead, I use a bit of butter and then add a couple of eggs to act as a binder. Works like a charm. Also, I happen to love a really maple-y, slightly salted granola, so I use Grade B syrup, which has a stronger flavor, as well as a bit of maple extract to punch things up.
I’ve found granola to be a great crowd pleaser, and with a little effort the homemade stuff is generally about ten times better than what you find in the bulk bins at the natural food store. I’d encourage you to use this recipe as a base, but feel free to substitute different varieties of nuts and extracts, depending on your favorites.
4 cups/14 oz rolled oats (not instant)
1.5 cups/ 6 oz walnuts or other nuts/seeds
1 cup/ 2 oz shredded coconut (I’ve used sweetened and unsweetened, both are good)
1/3 cup/3 oz brown sugar
2 tsp kosher salt
1 cup raisins
1/3 cup grade B maple syrup
1/4 cup vegetable oil or melted butter
1 Tb water
4 tsp vanilla or maple extract (or almond might be nice)
1 tsp ground ginger
2 tsp Vietnamese cinnamon
1 tsp ground nutmeg
Pre-heat oven to 325. Combine the above ingredients in a large mixing bowl and stir until well-combined. Pour onto a parchment-lined baking sheet and spread into an even layer, pushing the mixture down with the back of a spoon (this helps create clumps). Bake 40 to 45 minutes until lightly browned. Let cool completely before breaking into chunks.
Once upon a time a Walrus and a Carpenter went for a walk along the beach where they met up with a bunch of oysters. “Come walk with us!” they beseeched, and pretty soon a parade of oysters was trailing them across the sand. When the pair decided they’d gotten sufficiently far, they brought out a loaf of bread, some vinegar, and proceeded to have a tasty snack. Poor oysters.
That’s the gist of Lewis Caroll’s poem from “In the Looking Glass.” It also happens to pretty well sum up my dinner at a Seattle restaurant of the same name.
The Walrus and the Carpenter came highly recommended. It’s also gotten a fair amount of national press lately, and was recently named one of Bon Appetit’s “20 Best Restaurants in America.” To be frank, after all the fanfare I was a bit apprehensive about actually going, particularly because it was Valentine’s Day. I pictured big crowds, a harried hostess, and too-cool-for-school servers. I could not have been more wrong.
Anne swung by at five to put our names in for a table (they do not take reservations), and already there was a two-hour wait. This was actually fine, as my run had taken longer than expected, and I was still full from lunch. We had just found a parking space in Ballard when the hostess called to tell us our table was ready. Pretty good timing.
The restaurant was nothing like I expected. There were no masses to wade through at the front door, no loud bar, no need to assert yourself. “It’s so civilized,” I said to Anne, as we stepped into the brightly lit and uncrowded space. Couples murmured and held hands, waitresses danced around one another behind the bar. A twig-covered chandelier dominated the room, while white walls and muted furniture made the relatively small dining room seem spacious.
“The idea is to serve the highest quality food and drink in a space that is stripped of pretense and feels like home.”
We were seated at the bar, so we had a great view of the action as we talked about what to order. Wire baskets filled with oysters sat at one end, and nearby two sous chefs plated dishes. Before us a large bookcase sat filled with bottles like a library of liquor. Our server appeared, the same lipstick-clad, tattooed lady whose photo appeared in the recent Bon Appetit piece. We congratulated her on her rise to stardom and she smiled sheepishly. “I didn’t even know they were going to use that photo,” she said.
Like Caroll’s poem, the Walrus and the Carpenter is all about oysters. We had seven local varieties to choose from, so Anne and I picked six each for an even dozen. However, in a display of amazingness, someone decided that we really should try all seven types, so our oyster tray arrived with a couple extra shells on it. Score.
The oysters were all small to medium sized, and were arranged from mildest to briniest around a bed of ice. Some had long, thin shells, some were rounder, some sported gorgeous frills on them. They were all delicious, reminiscent of the not too far away waters where they’d grown up. As I washed them down with cava, I turned to Anne and said again, “This is so civilized.”
We couldn’t stop at oysters. Instead, we elected to try prawn crudo, whose bodies arrived in a spicy/sour brine, and whose shells were served alongside, deep fried like true prawn crisps. There was also a bowl of Brussels sprouts, roasted dark, almost caramelized. And grilled sardines, covered in a walnut and parsley pesto, bright and earthy tasting. I drank something called the “Mustache Ride,” a bawdy concoction of bourbon, cynar, allspice dram and maple. It was well-balanced, not to boozy, with a hint of spice and a hint of citrus. Life was good.
Despite the wait, our meal was unharried. The service was attentive and friendly; they treated us as if we were regulars, even after I confessed to being a tourist. And the food? It was exactly what I look for in a restaurant: showcasing local ingredients in a way I’d never considered, inspiring new ideas for meals in my own kitchen (though I confess to being disappointed that uni custard wasn’t on the menu that night!). I left feeling like I’d just visited the home of a good friend, one who happens to be super-cool and cook really well.
O Oysters,’ said the Carpenter,
You’ve had a pleasant run!
Shall we be trotting home again?’
But answer came there none —
And this was scarcely odd, because
They’d eaten every one.