Saturday, November 21, 2009

Celebrating Belief

Thanksgiving is the beginning of my favorite time of year. The beginning of Christmas music and lights on houses. The beginning of Gingerbread Lattes and edible indulgences. The beginning of traditions as old as I am and nostalgia of years past. The beginning of family gatherings, welcomed snowstorms, and a sense of inevitable magic. The beginning of Christmastime. As hard as it is for me to believe, there are others who actually dread, or are at the very least apathetic to, this time of year. Maybe it's because they cannot afford the luxuries of the holidays. Or because they have nobody to spend them with. Maybe they don't have a home or a family. Maybe they lost their family. Whatever the reason, they just don't look forward to giving thanks and celebrating a time of year that is not so different to them than the other 11 months. This got me to thinking, why is this time of year so drastically different than any other? Some people may believe that this time of year is so prominent because it has been hyped up and commercialized by society. Our culture has definitely influenced the season but I don't think they deserve complete responsibility for this distinguished time of year. Don't get me wrong, I'm just as much of a sucker for Egg Nog, holiday movies, and Nat King Cole's The Christmas Song as the next guy, but I think the popularity of Christmastime is due to something else. It is due to an innate quality that has been around forever. During the season, you are invited to believe in the impossible. Think of all the joy believing in Santa Clause brought you. Sure, you could pass Mr. Kringle off as another one of societies manifestations of the holiday, but regardless of the material possessions he ultimately brought you, believing in St.Nick made an entire month magical. And even as we got older and discovered the unlikeliness of a man able to defy the laws of time and space, we still hold dear those Christmases when we did believe. When you are young, your beliefs are invincible. So, does it seem, is the consequential happiness. Why do we let that slip away with age? Who says we have to stop believing in something even though our logic tells us otherwise. Who says we cannot believe in the impossible? Isn't the whole religious principle based on belief. Belief in something for which you will never know the truth. Belief in something that defies what you can logically make sense of. Belief in, perhaps, the impossible. That being said, I seem to have failed to mention thus far the biggest contributor to this beloved CHRISTmas holiday. Regardless of your religious participation, those who celebrate Christmas are celebrating the birth of a figure who made life possible. A figure who has the potential to bring you so much more than Christmas presents if you just believe. And maybe there will come a day when our beliefs are proven wrong, but at least we'll have the memory of happiness that believing brought us. And, when it really comes down to it, your beliefs are the one thing that is really and truly yours. So you may believe as you wish for as long as you desire. And chances are you'll be a lot more happier at Christmastime and beyond. I realize this is all very easy for me to say as I sit in my cozy bed, drinking my red wine, typing on my personal computer...but I do know what it's like to stop believing for a moment. I know what it's like to have something happen that makes you question everything great you have ever believed in. This is probably the constant state of mind for some. For those without a roof over their head or food in their stomach. Those without family or friends. Those who have lost their job, their money, their health. But, if they choose to accept it, they do have their beliefs. And when you have your beliefs, anything is possible.

"You have everything you need if you just believe."
-Josh Groban, Believe (From the Polar Express)

Sunday, November 1, 2009

October in New England

Whoever said October was Boston's best month knew what he was talking about. The month came and went with only a handful of rainy days and an average temperature of about 60 degrees. The leaves were brilliant. Along the Charles River where I run the trees create a sort of canopy over the path. The bright yellow of the leaves illuminates the sky, making you feel like you're running through a bright, beautiful tunnel of sorts. And the grass was still green, the river smooth and shiny. It's like a painting come to life. But now that October is over I know the beauty of fall is soon to pass. Replacing it an ice cold winter I have been warned about. The lovely season has distracted me from my blog, so allow me to fill you in on the highlights of the month...

The Broncos were undefeated in October. Among the wins was Boston's own Patriots which entitles me to bragging rights for the remainder of the year.

Towards the beginning of the month, I went for a day of apple picking and wine tasting at a little winery/orchard about 45 minutes outside the city. Michael and I drove out to Bolton Massachusetts to Nashoba Valley Winery for a very affordable one-year anniversary date. It being a Saturday in the height of apple picking season, the place was busy but we still managed to do everything we set out to do in just over two hours. They have a good sized orchard with a big variety of apple trees. You get a map and a bag and go pick apples to your hearts desire. All the trees are marked to distinguish the different types of apples, but I realized once in the bag they all looked the same. I don't know which was which but they all tasted good. We then went on a tour of the winery. It was small, all their equipment spread out over four rooms, but obviously very efficient. They have a couple dozen varieties of wine plus beer and spirits. Throughout the tour we tried five different wines, most of which were very sweet. Not my preference in wine but still very flavorful. Apparently, the climate in that area doesn't cater well to growing grapes, so they import their grapes and use the fruit they can grow (pear, apple, peach, berry) as the main ingredient in their wine. Pretty interesting process. I'd like to make my own wine someday :) Nashoba also has a huge lot of open space and picnic tables right outside the winery. You can bring a picnic lunch on a nice day and their cork a bottle of wine for you to enjoy on the premises. Very friendly folks.

Money was tight this month, so I cooked in a lot, which as you know is fine by me. I did try a tapas restaurant called Tasca in Brighton, MA which was referred to me by a friend. They have a slew of various tapas, or small plates, which it seems they are known for. Two to three tapas is plenty to fill you up, and at about $6 a plate, it's pretty reasonable for an amazing dinner. Tapas restaurants are fun too because all the food tends to come out at different times and depending on the crowd you go with everyone usually ends up sharing so you get to try a bunch of different menu items. And at Tasca you definitely want to try everything. Among the tapas at our tables were spinach quiche, baked brie with an apple and raisin chutney, patatas bravas (potatoes with a tomato sauce), petite filet minon, pasta with seafood and a white wine butter sauce, shrimp with garlic, and tortilla Espanola (potato omelet). They also have a mailing list you can join to receive their weekly specials which includes $5 bottles of wine and 3 course meal options for $16. I'm getting hungry just thinking about it...

We also tried a couple restaurants in Cambridge which were also very impressive. Ole, a Mexican place right down the street, had unique Mexican fare and very good margaritas. A little pricey, but worth returning too. And another restaurant in Harvard Square which I cannot even remember the name of, but the food was notable. Again slightly expensive but they serve up everything to meatloaf to pizza to hamburgers to seafood. And the atmosphere was very cozy. They have thick hardwood tables and cushioned chairs. Every table is a little bit different and they space them out well so it feels a little more intimate. Now if only I could remember the name...

I think that's it for October highlights. It was a beautiful month and I was almost glad to be unemployed to enjoy my first New England fall. But November brings with it my new job, shorter days, and oh yes, that freezing cold weather...I'll keep you posted.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Everyone Needs A Walden Pond.

During my many vacations to Boston before my move here, my dad would always urge me to visit Walden Pond. He had been there while living in Boston himself, and me being the literature major, he thought I should visit the namesake of Henry David Thoreau's famous novel. Funny thing was, no one in Boston (at least not the college students I was around) had ever heard of Walden, let alone know how to get there. As it turns out, the pond isn't in Boston but about thirty minutes away in Concord, Massachusetts. And, fate having it, my little babysitting stint a few weeks back was also in Concord. So, having figured out where the pond was, I decided to bring my boyfriend there on a lovely fall day in October, aka yesterday. The Commonwealth of Massachusetts now manages the pond, and for a meager five-dollar parking fee, the day at Walden is yours. I wonder if Thoreau ever imagined a parking lot in his backyard? You can peek inside his little one room cabin and walk the trails which border the 61 acre pond. You can even go for a swim. For those of you who aren't so versed in all things Walden (don't worry, I had to Wikipedia it myself), Henry David Thoreau was a transcendentalist author who escaped to Walden Pond in the mid 1800's to contemplate the simple life and discover himself. Contrary to what I had previously believed, Walden Pond wasn't in the middle of nowhere- even back then. It was close to Thoreau's family home in present day Concord. Thoreau didn't go to Walden to exile himself. He merely wanted to remove himself from society for a couple years in order to see it (society) more clearly. He wanted to see what little he could live on; he wanted to live simply and self-sufficiently. Which got me thinking- we could all use our own Walden Pond. A place we retreat to contemplate; a place to rediscover the essence of our being. A place where cell phones and ipods don't function. No televisions. No laptops. No internet. Just nature. Now, I don't expect anyone to commit two years to this. I don't even think an overnight stay is necessary. But, every now and then, when life gets to be overwhelming (as it often does), instead of surrounding yourself with people and technology, I urge you to find the Thoreau in yourself and slip away for a couple hours into nature. Anything with an on/off switch stays at home. You may, however, bring a pencil and paper. Observe. Contemplate. Write. Realize how much you can accomplish using just yourself and your infinitely capable mind. I promise, your life will not be in shambles when you return to normalcy, and chances are you will feel refreshed and recharged. Nature has that positive effect on us. And, if you want to read more about Thoreau's little experiment, pick up his book "Walden, or Life in the Wood." I think I'm going to order my copy today.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Back in the 303

So the other day I found myself back in the 303...the 303 Cafe that is. A little diamond in the rough in East Boston, the 303 Cafe offers a delicious (and very affordable) array of Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner. My roommates had discovered the place while scoping out the neighborhood for potential places for us to live this summer, and although we ended up in Cambridge, the 303 is still a quick ride on the 'T'. The remote location increases the appeal of the cafe. East Boston, being somewhat surrounded by water, is not a place where one would normally stroll around. That being said, the cafe has somehow made enough of a name for itself to attract customers from all over the city. Enough about the location, though, let's talk food. After a very difficult decision, I decided upon the Crab Cakes and Eggs, a Benedict of sorts. Two crab cakes atop a toasted English muffin topped with perfectly poached eggs and blanketed in just the right amount of hollandaise. The crab cakes were, according to my taste buds at least, made fresh with local crab and very minimal filler, meaning the cake was mostly crab with just enough bread crumbs/ mayo/ egg etc. to hold it together. You could tell by the flavor of the meat itself and the consistency of the cake. While the cakes could have stood alone as a meal, I do agree that everything is better under hollandaise. I am a huge eggs Benedict connoisseur and almost always order it on a brunch menu, especially if the restaurant varies from the original Benedict- for example, crab cakes instead of ham. But I always claim a restaurant's eggs Benedict is only as good as its hollandaise. And in the case of the 303 Cafe, they definitely passed my evaluation. The hollandaise was scored an A+ for consistency- not too runny, not to thick and the taste was nothing to complain about. Not too eggy, and just a hint of lemon. Just how I like it. The eggs, too, were poached just so the yolk was runny and the whites were not, which tied the dish together perfectly. Now I'm starting to make myself hungry...Needless to say (again) the 303 Cafe was a fabulous little restaurant in all respects. Remote location, cozy and pleasant atmosphere, and most importantly, superior food. (Did I mention their french toast is covered in Nutella and whipped cream! And they have beer on tap you cannot find anywhere else) I will definitely be returning, again and again, back to the 303, so stay tuned for more lavish descriptions of my favorite thing to talk about- food.

As if my day wasn't complete already, my brunch just had to be followed by an afternoon of football and beer. After the 303, we headed down to a little area by the water (Seaport I think it's called) and took in the afternoon at the Atlantic Beer Garden. The three story beer drinker/football watcher paradise was filled with Patriots fans on this lovely Sunday afternoon. Me being completely averse to all things Patriot (the football team, at least) I opted for soaking in the late summer sun on the top roof deck with a Blue Moon and a few friends. The place cleared out quick after the Patriots game ended (in a loss, if I may add) which opened up some inside tables for me to watch my Broncos. The entry level of the bar had twenty-something high definition televisions all showing football. And here I thought I already found nirvana in Boston (refer to ice cream blog above). And to complete my day, the Broncos were victorious.
I think I'll end on that note...CIAO

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Rules of the Road (or Lack Thereof)

During my commute home from work today, I decided my blog about driving in Boston was long overdue. I seems that, by tagging your car with a Massachusetts license plate, you also become a part of an elite club of people who think they own the road. You come to notice after driving here three things: #1- Bostonians love to honk their horns; #2-No one (and everyone) has the right of way; and #3-Avoiding pedestrians is like a really dangerous game of Frogger. All I can say is thank goodness for brakes (and insurance!). Let me paint a little picture of my aforementioned points. A courtesy honk from the guy behind you letting you know the light is green is one thing. A completely acceptable use of the car horn, in my opinion. Up here it's a little different. In order to not get honked at you must go before the light even turns green. Or, for instance, if making a left turn without a green arrow, you probably will get honked at. If you're turning left (a completely legal and common driving procedure) and waiting for a break in the oncoming traffic in order to make your move safely, you have now become an hindrance and a bother to the driver behind you. They will express their frustration at you with a honk, and then they will promptly demonstrate how completely unnecessary the said honk was as they easily go around you and continue on their way. This leads me into driving lesson #2; no one, and consequently everyone, has the right of way. For example, if I did have a Massachusetts license plate, I would know that, in the aforementioned situation, I could have in fact turned left into the oncoming traffic. Yes, going straight on green technically has the right-of-way over turning left on green coming from the opposite direction, but if I somehow snuck in there they would have no choice but to stop for me. Example two- I was always taught that you don't have to stop when turning right on green. Here, you do. Because if you don't, the driver coming from the opposite way turning left on green will likely run right into you. There are no rules of alternation for merging on the highway, either. Whoever can go the fastest, wins! If you can nudge the nose of your car there, the spot is yours. Also, I don't think the memo about the illegality of blocking intersections ever made it this far east. Basically if you need to make a move in your vehicle, you make it. Do not fear other drivers. The are inferior to you. They will yield to you. As long as you are in your car, you are the rules are yours to make. However, if you are not encased by a 15,000 pound mass of steel-and-wheels you are now a very vulnerable subject in the driving through Boston equation, which brings me to my third and final (for today) driving lesson. There are many "Yield to Pedestrian" street signs and adjoining crosswalks throughout the city, but as you can probably guess by this point, these are just another thing for Boston drivers to not stop at. And if a pedestrian (heaven forbid) tries to cross in one of these crosswalks while a driver is anywhere near, they will get honked at and practically ran over. And, needless to say, they will still remain on the initial side of the cross walk. The said pedestrian must wait until a break in traffic and sprint across the street faster than Usain Bolt running for the Gold. In fact the only time a pedestrian can cross the street is when they take on the mind of a driver. The pedestrian must only cross in do not cross zones. They must cross at the solid red hand instead of the white walking man. They must find the most treacherous, crowded part of the road they want to cross and jaywalk across it. The car will yield to them. If my rant on Boston driving has gotten you lost, just imagine the most nerve-racking, dangerous, chaotic mess of automobiles and honking horns and you'll be in my shoes. But, lucky for me, my nanny job (for an adorable four-month old) ended up being too far to commute each day, so my driving days are almost behind me. Hopefully, I'll find a new job closer to the city, so I'll have a whole new slew of adventures in taking the public transit. But until then, happy driving and think before you honk. CIAO

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Closet Space

It seems as though no matter how many drawers, storage containers, baskets, etc. I buy I still cannot fit all my darn clothes in my room. I think that's a sign from the unpacking Gods telling me I have too much stuff! My new deal: for every new thing I buy, I must give something away. That being said, I applaud myself for avoiding H&M today. For if I allowed myself to shop I would have had a lot of throwing away to do tonight. Another realization today- Target it approximately a 4 minutes drive from my house. And since it seems I cannot leave Target without spending approximately $80, my finances are really going to love that convenience (Ha ha). However, if I keep in mind realization number one (too little closet space) with realization number two (too close Target) I think I can save myself (and my bank account) from the bliss of Target shopping. And, I suppose I owe it to myself to check out some of the local, Boston-only boutiques. Speaking of which, while perusing the North End (aka Little Italy) I briefly browsed the racks of a little place called LIT. Extremely cute clothes, price range cerca Urban Outfitters = Must return when I have an income! And speaking of that, I will have an income starting tomorrow. I have landed myself the perfect little nanny job in Concord, Massachusetts. While I thought Boston may have been my segway into changing the world through my writing or teaching or something of the like, I am very happy with what I have been offered. And I am still changing the world, one diaper change at a time. And in my downtime I'll be able to start that novel I've been putting off...

Let me shift my focus onto the more serious things in life- Ice Cream. Not just any ice cream, the best ice cream in the world. Of course, it did not take me long to visit Toscanini's, a little ice cream/ coffee shop the New York Times voted "Best Ice Cream in the World." Toscanini's is also only about a four minute drive from my house, which may be more problematic than Target. The service was very friendly. I think the guy behind the counter let me try just about all of the thirty or so flavors...including Miso ice cream (think miso soup). Very interesting, but not bad at all. Anyone who can take a fishy, tofu-y, salty soup and turn it into ice cream is okay by my standards. After all my tiny-spoonful testers, I finally settled on one scoop of Coffee Graham Cracker Crunch and one scoop of Coconut. The coconut was a rich and creamy, nutty and sweet, with the perfect amount of shredded coconut mixed in. The coffee tasted of just-brewed java with crunchy bits of spicy Graham Cracker throughout. The two scoops were more than enough ice cream (although I licked my bowl clean) and it only cost me $5.10 (and I didn't even pay, thanks to my lovely BF). All in all it was a great experience I would recommend to anyone living in or visiting the Boston area. We also noticed a Brunch menu and a delicious array of coffee and espresso drinks, so I'll definitely return for more than just ice cream.

I also popped into the little cafe right next to my house today, just to take a look. And of course, walked out with a hefty lunch for me and my sweety. 2nd Street Cafe, appropriately named for it's 2nd Street location, offers a modest array of sandwiches, soups, salads, and even daily home-cooked specials. The sandwich I picked (typically) was called the Ten Dollar Sandwich and had everything but the kitchen sink in between two slices of fresh baked pumpernickel. Turkey, bacon, Dijon, veggies, yum, yum, yum. Their entire menu looked tempting. They also serve breakfast and a very affordable cup of coffee (I'll know where to go when I run out) so I'm sure I'll be back there too.

A friend and I once said, while traveling through Europe, that the way we see cities is we eat them. As funny as that may seem it is entirely true in my part. What better way to explore a new place than through their cuisine. I'm off to a great start in Boston and it's only just begun. Let's just hope I keep up the running and limit my ice cream intake to a bi-monthly basis.

That's all for now. We'll see where this next week takes me. Oh, and Go Broncos :) CIAO

Sunday, September 6, 2009

New Beginnings

I have officially been in Boston one week now and I am happy to report that all is off to a great start. Although I was welcomed with a 'nor'easter' (or an East Coast storm, according to Wikipedia), the weather over this past week has been fabulous. Cloudless skies, sunshine, and a nice fall breeze. Perfect weather for my new running route along the Charles River, or the Chahles as the Bostonians would pronounce it. Apparently, the pronunciation of the letter 'R' is unnecessary here. My running route starts at my condo in East Cambridge then takes me along Memorial Drive which parallels the Charles River. The riverside pathway caters to joggers, walkers, bikers, out-for-a-stroll-ers, even rollerbladers. At a couple different points (Massachusetts Avenue & Boston University) you can cross over to the Boston side of the Charles. From here I run back the way I came, cross over again, then head towards home. Round trip it's about a 6 mile loop, but with sea level oxygen to breathe I feel resilient. After running at a mile high for 22 years, the air is so thick it almost feels tangible. Aside from enjoying the lovely end-of-Summer-weather, unpacking into my new condo has been quite the task. Translation- boxes everywhere and no where to put anything! The dimensions of my bedroom are seemingly impossible to work with, or so I thought until I found a little place called I was able to buy a few skinny bookshelves for a very reasonable price, so in 5-7 business days I should finally have a place to put my belongings. I shouldn't complain too much, though. The anxiety I've experienced by not being able to unpack hasn't exactly kept me up at night. I'm not sure if I blame the comfy, queen size, tempurpedic, 600 thread count bed upgrade or the time zone change, but I haven't woken up before 11am this entire week. And did I mention the kitchen yet? Stainless steel appliances, granite counter tops, beautiful cabinetry...I'm in culinary heaven. And the movie-theatre-size high definition television screen I have projected on my living room wall makes me feel like I'm actually at Folsom Field right now watching the Buffaloes play CSU (although I am unhappy with the 2nd quarter score). And as if these luxuries weren't sufficient, my French roommate practically force-fed me homemade crepes last night. With Nutella. Y-U-M.

Anyways, enough about the rough life I have been subject to- I have answers to the Bean Town inquiry I posed a couple weeks back. Apparently, back in the day, Bostonians loved beans baked in molasses. They were appropriately called "Boston Baked Beans." Back then, Boston was a huge supplier for molasses. I'm not sure if the surplus of molasses gave way to the beans or vice-versa but as the first month of 1919 came to an end, so did the molasses monopoly. On January 21, 1919 a huge vat of molasses exploded in the "North End" of Boston- actually killing 21 people. Which is kind of ironic because of the expression "slower than molasses is January." Nowadays, these beans are hard to come by but are apparently still remembered by the Bean Town natives. Interesting huh? I received my information from a couple different locals of Boston, but for support visited the FAQ page at

Hopefully this week's furniture delivery (and the boxes from home) should allow me to complete the unpacking process. Once all is looking cute, I'll post some pictures of my new abode. My goal for this week- Tosconini's. Home of the New York Time's quoted Best Ice Cream in the World (and apparently nirvana). Until then, enjoy the last days of summer and embrace the beautiful fall that's upon us.