Category Archives: Boston

One Week in Boston

It’s been an exhausting week. That’s how most of us here in Boston would describe it. Exhausting, because we’ve been trapped in a movie that we can’t get out of, and this movie isn’t a romantic comedy. It’s more like a really long episode of “Cops,” or a week-long version of “24” (“168?” Doesn’t have the same ring to it…), only more personal. This “movie” has come complete with villains and heroes, car chases and bizarre breaking news, love stories and heartbreak, close calls and sad coincidences. It’s been doused with losses and fanned by unpredictable violence. But most of all, it has left so many of us feeling on edge, unsafe where we are supposed to feel safest, and angry at the senseless destruction of human life that has occurred on our home turf — especially because, in a sense, it came from within the very place we retreat to when we’re scared. While the death toll isn’t particularly high compared to other attacks, the ripples of those few deaths and the many injured have felt more like tsunami waves here in this proud city. Everyone in Boston spent five days incredibly close to terrorists. Too close. And most of the time, we didn’t even know it.

Magnolia trees. Cambridge, MA. April 17, 2013.

Magnolia trees. Cambridge, MA. April 17, 2013.

In all honesty, this has also been a fascinating week. Not only have we been part of this developing storyline as its plot unfolds, but we have also, in a way, served as its directors. Thanks to the rapid (albeit sloppy) dissemination of shared images and information through every form of social media, we have been working as full-time investigators, only without the bulletproof vests. Every time a new license plate was announced on Friday, I found myself at my window trying to read the plates of every car that went down my street — JUST in case I could help (ok, so my roommates may have made fun of me for this). When the first photos of the suspects were released, I stared intently at them, trying to memorize every detail of their blurry faces while desperately trying to rack my memory for any clues I could offer. It was all of us v.s. them. All week long, we had to be on high alert as tidbits of information were shot out of our TVs and i-screens like rapid fire hitting and missing the facts. During a few brutal days of painfully slow progress, we were left sorting through three-day old casings to see if any evidence had been left behind long after the smoke had cleared, and where, if anywhere, all of it might lead us  — if we even wanted to know. Unfortunately, it lead us right to our own backyards (literally, for one family).

Wanted. Somerville, MA.

Wanted. Somerville, MA.

Really, what we wanted (well, needed) to know was: Are we safe? It’s a simple question that many Americans don’t usually have to ask themselves on a daily basis, or if they should, they usually don’t. It is a particularly exhausting question when you don’t have an answer, and you don’t know when you will. In some ways, it was that simple. We had to go five days without knowing where a couple mass murderers were sleeping. We had to go five days wondering if they wanted to kill again. We had to go five days knowing we were who they wanted to kill. That, my friends, is a horrible feeling. While we felt many other wonderful feelings as the city came together in beautiful, inspiring ways last week, that feeling lurked, despite my best attempts to pretend otherwise.

As we tip-toed around the city, the grotesque details and haunting images of lost limbs and shrapnel became part of our daily lives. As much as I don’t want to admit it (and trust me, I really don’t want to say this), terrorism won for a few days. It gave me that anxious feeling in my gut when I got on the T that I remember so well from the first weeks in Manhattan after September 11. It kept my eyes open a little wider and my heart beating a little faster at loud noises and sirens (ugh, the sirens — they were the constant, unsettling soundtrack to the week). I had my finger constantly seeking the story’s pulse, worried that the worst might not be behind us. I don’t want to admit it, but at times I was really a little scared… It all felt so out of our control. I wasn’t necessarily scared while I was awake, but it was in my gut at night, proven by the two nightmares I had, and the deflated sense of security that I woke up with knowing I was a little less sure of what each day might bring.

On Thursday, I met a friend for lunch near MIT. This is me walking out of the T station at Kendall/MIT, hours before a shootout would occur nearby. Cambridge, MA.

On Thursday, I met a friend for lunch near MIT. This is me walking out of the T station at Kendall/MIT, hours before a shootout would occur nearby. Cambridge, MA.

I won’t forget checking the news right before I went to bed Thursday night, only to find out there was a shootout a few blocks from where I had lunch that afternoon. Or waking up repeatedly in the middle of the night, as so many of my friends did, with a nagging need to keep checking the news and find out more as a dramatic confrontation unfolded. My roommate heard the shootout from our house. A couple of my best friends live right up the street from MIT. I eventually found out I had eaten ice cream across the street from the two suspects’ home that Wednesday. Everything was feeling a little too close. It reminded me of the coup attempt I experienced just before leaving Quito, complete with listening to machine gun fire for the first time (which you can read about, and listen to, here: Couped Up In Quito). It felt almost surreal, yet unavoidably real.

Waking up Friday morning to a massive manhunt, being told not to leave our homes, and spending the day glued to the news as emails, texts, and Facebook messages trickled in from friends near and far (and even some who have been completely MIA for years) is something I won’t forget.

As the story unfolded and the chase ensued, we watched with a perpetual anxiety that became incredibly draining. I had intense cabin fever, and while I didn’t necessarily want to go outside, I struggled with not knowing how long this manhunt-induced buzz would have to be sustained. As the world looked on, we sat trapped in our living rooms (an ENTIRE city off the streets — how crazy is that?!), hoping — at times, desperately — that the good guys would finally catch the bad guys, hoping that it wouldn’t take long, though the hours mounted and mounted, as did our snacking. Then came that final, perfectly unique and dramatic discovery of a bloody boy in a boat — a very “Life of Pi”-meets-the-OJ-Simpson-trial grand finale. And the heroes of this story? There were too many to count.

Captured. Somerville, MA.

Captured. Somerville, MA.

We really have been a part of this investigation from start to finish. Never in my life has the public played such a critical role in such a serious and dangerous real-time investigation. While we’re all still dealing with what has happened here in Boston, I cannot describe the sense of relief that I felt when I went to bed Friday night, and when I woke up Saturday morning. It is a relief, not just in knowing that the manhunt was over and the suspect had been captured, but in knowing that we live in a world surrounded by mostly GOOD people — people whose instincts lead them unflinchingly into the wake of destruction to help strangers, people who despite having their legs blown off awoke in a hospital bed determined to tell police that they looked into the eyes of the man who put them there, people who worked extra shifts in the hospitals and came together to help complete strangers with the precise coordination of a ballet during one of the most traumatic and chaotic moments of their lives. People offered their homes, their businesses, their BLOOD without even thinking twice. These are the people who surround us, not them.

Cherry blossoms in Cambridge, MA. April 16, 2013.

Cherry blossoms in Cambridge, MA. April 16, 2013.

While the fleeting sense of terror may linger in our bones, the faith that for every two bad guys, there is an entire city of good people around us — THAT is what I hope to take from this last week in Boston, and into the next four weeks I have here before moving back to New York City.

Thank you Boston, for reminding all of us that there are more good people in the world than bad. And, despite being a little mangled and beat down, for showing the world how strong you and the people in this city really are. I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else right now.

But, 40 degrees in April… Really?! Can we talk about this?

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Filed under Boston, September 11, Uncategorized, USA

The Boy from Dorchester

I woke up with a heavy heart this morning, thinking only about the 8 year old boy who was killed in yesterday’s Boston Marathon attack, and how his family must feel today. It’s all too familiar a feeling, after spending a day in the MGH ICU last week with one of my best friends and her family after her sister was killed suddenly and tragically in a head-on collision. Her 7-year-old nephew is doing remarkably well after breaking his back in the accident. There were many other victims in yesterday’s attack, but I can’t get the little boy and his unsuspecting innocence out of my head.

Maybe it took a deep sleep to really feel the weight of what happened here in Boston yesterday, but it’s hitting me more now than it did last night. This explosion was powerful, cutting through more than just flesh: it instantly severed limbs (two brothers who were standing side-by-side, next to the boy, each lost one leg), it shattered happy moments that had been built from determination and hard work (that little boy from Dorchester was killed just after hugging his father at the finish line — his sister lost a leg, his mother had to have brain surgery), and the piercing dagger of terrorism went right through the heart of so many others, without directly touching any of them — at least not physically. This was a horror that was both completely unexpected, yet eerily familiar (cannot help but be reminded of September 11). As a New Yorker, I walk around my city with an almost constant awareness that an attack could happen at any given moment. It doesn’t stop me from going anywhere and it by no means rules my life, but it doesn’t leave me either. I can’t say that I walk around Boston with that same awareness, but yesterday I had to.

I noticed a little spike in TwT hits yesterday afternoon, so for those of you who were trying to get a sense of where I was and what I experienced, here is my little inconsequential story.

At around 2:30, I left my apartment to head to Harvard Square, where I was planning to cram for a big 5:30pm midterm. It’s about a 20-25 minute walk to campus, so I was literally feet from the Harvard Science Center when the explosions occurred at 2:50pm. All around me, marathoners walked (or wobbled) with their families and friends, glowing with a palpable air of satisfaction and exhaustion. A friend messaged me asking if I knew what the explosions in Boston were all about. My heart sank just a little, so I quickly checked Twitter from my iPhone. The first Tweets about two explosions at the finish line had come through, but nobody knew anything. It must have been 2:52pm.

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I headed right for the computer lab, where I was planning to quickly print out a study sheet I had made for my last-minute cram session. When I got to the computer lab, nobody was checking the news. I got on CNN, where bits of news were quickly being assembled. The guy next to me noticed my screen. He let out a quick “Oh my God… what the hell happened?” The woman next to me started receiving text after text. She later took me to her Facebook page to show me the picture she took an hour or so earlier at the finish line, in front of the Indian flag, right where the bomb exploded. Two other women in the 5-person media lab room began crying as the news trickled in. “It’s just so horrible!” one of the women said, between little outbursts of tears. The first images I saw were of actual limbs scattered across a bloody sidewalk. The photos were raw and unfiltered, un-described just simply posted and shared by people quickly trying to wrap their heads around what had happened, in its horrific brutality.

At around 3:30, I got an email from my professor that class, and our 20%-of-our-grade midterm, was still on. After what had happened to my friend’s family earlier in the week, I had had trouble focusing on the Respiratory, Urinary, and Digestive systems, but after serious studying over the weekend, I felt confident in what I knew. Suddenly, I looked at pictures of slides and pages of notes, and it all meant nothing. My mind was somewhere else completely. Everything I had crammed into my brain was suddenly gone, and replaced by an adrenalized need to understand what was happening, and make sure my friends were ok.

Boston, MA.

Boston, MA.

Earlier in the day, a friend called, inviting me to watch the Marathon with her and another friend. It was so incredibly tempting that I seriously considered it, but I knew I was really behind in my studying and needed that time. “Come on Tavel! We’re going to grab lunch, then get a couple beers, and then we’re going to sit and watch the runners go by! It’s Marathon Monday in Boston, you’ve gotta be there!” I looked at my notes, and I looked at the time (it was around 10:30am), and knew in my gut that I just had to keep studying…

Reluctantly, I turned the invitation down, wondering if I was being too responsible considering I had already gotten into grad school, but knowing I was being true to myself and what felt like the right thing to do. If I didn’t have a midterm last night, there is no doubt in my mind that I would have been there, at the Marathon, watching the runners go by.

At around 4pm, the sirens started swarming the area, and Tweets came in that there was a suspicious package and possible bomb found at the Harvard T stop, about 100 yards from where I was. Then, we heard on a loud-speaker that the police were shutting down Brattle Street, the street that intersected with Church Street (where I was) because of undisclosed suspicious activity. That’s when things felt a little more real, and for a moment, I worried that we might be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Armored vehicles, ambulances and police motorcycles swarmed the area, but within 10 or 15 minutes, an announcement came through that, thankfully, these were all false alarms.

How was I supposed to take a 2.5 hour midterm after all this? My mind was in a million places, but not in the large intestine or alveoli, where perhaps it should have been. About 45 minutes before my midterm, we got the email that class had been cancelled. My class is full of nursing students and EMTs who were planning to work extra shifts because of the tragedy. Then, the email came from Harvard that all classes were cancelled. When T service is interrupted, life is interrupted.

Boston, MA.

Playing the guitar over The Charles River. Cambridge, MA.

By 5:20pm, the announcement came through that they were going to shut down the building I was in, and everyone had to go home. I met up with one of my classmates and we walked home together (I believe in the buddy-system), not through campus like we usually do, but around campus — the long route — just to be safe.

That awareness that I mentioned, when you have to walk around with the realization that you’re not as safe as you thought you were — that’s terrorism at work. Events like the one yesterday make us feel small, and somewhat helpless in a much bigger, more aggressive and complicated world. But today, despite the tragic reality of what happened yesterday, I will try not to allow that feeling in. That’s how terrorism wins. Terrorism takes away our shields, but it doesn’t take our swords.

Flag in Somerville. February, 2013.

Flag in Somerville. February, 2013.

Today, rather than focus on the terror and heartbreak of what happened yesterday, I will try to focus on how proud of his father that little boy must have been when he hugged him at the finish line yesterday. And how tragedies such as this bring so many people, from strangers to entire cities, together.

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Boston Bucket List

A few days ago, I received an email with details about my upcoming graduate school orientation, and it hit me: this grad school thing is really happening (soon!!), and my time in Boston is running out.

Winter Weeping Willow. Boston, MA.

Winter Weeping Willow. Boston, MA.

I’m not quite done with Boston yet. In some ways, I feel like I am still just getting started. So, it’s time for a bucket list. I need help putting together a list of things to do, places to see (museums? landmarks? parks?), and food to eat (restaurant suggestions? outdoor eats?). What does Boston have to offer in the Spring? Who wants to get outside and explore with me? As winter slowly takes off its chilly armor, I look forward to seeing what’s been hidden underneath.

Blue sky and buildings. Boston, MA.

Blue sky and buildings. Boston, MA.

But back to that orientation… My graduate school program is small. In a couple of weeks I am going to meet the 30 other people that I’ll be spending the next three years with, studying like I’ve never studied before and becoming a Doctor of something (whoa)… together. It’s going to be the very beginning of another adventure, one that will take me into a new decade of life. Sure, I wonder if I’m going to make new friends and who those friends are going to be, what we’ll go through together, how much this program is going to challenge me… But when you’re almost 30 and it’s your first day of school, you’re kind of past worrying about that stuff. At this point, I really just want to show up, kick the door down, walk in, and get this grad school party started. I spent nearly a decade waiting to get to this door — I sure as heck am not going to hesitate to walk in now!

Snow piles. Blizzard 2013. Somerville, MA.

Snow piles. Blizzard 2013. Somerville, MA.

Ahh. As you can see, my mind is stuck between Boston and what I imagine will definitely be a hard place… But let’s keep the focus back on savoring the last few months in Beantown. Please tell me what I need to do/see before I leave. Winter made me a little less adventurous than I’d like to admit, so let’s get this show on the road before I once again hit the road myself.

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Filed under Boston, Healthcare, Life Stuff, Massachusetts, New York City, Photography, School, Somerville, Uncategorized, Winter

Arepas, Truffle Oil, and Pizza: Three Places to Eat This Winter

As I wait to hear back from grad schools, I am beginning to acknowledge the possibility that I might not be living here next year. Everything is still up in the air (will it be Boston/Philly/NYC?! It’s still anyone’s game!), but I think it’s time to capture a few more of my favorite Cambridge/Boston spots before this whole year in Beantown melts away quicker than that first snowstorm.

Harvard Square, first snow. Cambridge, MA.

Harvard Square, first snow. Cambridge, MA.

Let’s start with Orinoco. I was at a friend’s party talking with a guy I just met about travel and food, and he told me I had to try this Venezuelan place. He didn’t know me well, but based on our discussion I trusted his recommendation. The moment my first arepa craving hit, I decided to give it a try. As I approached the restaurant down a small alley slightly off of the main foot traffic in Harvard Square, I already felt pleasantly surprised. The little pathway to the restaurant felt delightfully unexpected, and I was intrigued with what I might find. I got there early, perhaps 30 minutes before they’re used to getting their first customers, and merengue was blasting throughout the cozy space while a cluster of waiters chatted loudly in Spanish. Ahhh, yes!! I felt instantly at home. They seemed a little surprised to see me, but I was seated promptly at the table of my choosing where I could easily take in the candle-lit quirks of the restaurant. I had an instant crush on Orinoco and its vibe. Sadly, the music was turned down while I waited for my friend, but luckily the Latin beats continued to pulse throughout the meal (just not as aggressively as I may have secretly liked).

We began with a delicious pitcher of sangria, which was just the right amount of sweet for a cold night. As I entered a tropical daydream, our Pelua Arepa arrived (a traditional fried corn pocket with Venezuelan-style stewed shredded beef and yellow edam cheese). It was everything I hoped it would be; it was hot, the meat was tender and flavorful, and the arepa had just the right amount of crunch to it. I could have easily eaten only arepas all night, but like a good Argentinean girl, I had ordered the Parilla Caraqueña (an assortment of strip steak, chorizo, chicken, guasacaca, and fried yuca with mojo — oh how I love yuca). I was full, to say the least. But my appetite wasn’t the only thing satisfied. I loved the adorable space, which was originally built in 1900 and housed Cambridge’s first Spanish restaurant. They’ve done a wonderful job decorating it with multicolored wooden chairs and colorful painted religious figurines throughout. There is no way I am leaving this town without at least one more trip to Orinoco, preferably after winter thaws so I can enjoy the Venezuelan comida in the outdoor patio. Who will be lucky enough to join me?!

Inside Orinoco. Cambridge, MA

Inside Orinoco. Cambridge, MA

To switch things up a little, I was happy to receive an invitation to a new restaurant in the Financial District called Granary Tavern. I’d call it swanky but comfortable. I loved the atmosphere, which was sleek and modern but with rustic undertones. I’m not usually a cocktail gal, but seeing as my time in Boston has been so cocktail-infused, I had to give the Ginger Rogers a try (Absolut Vodka, ginger liquor, fresh squeezed lemon, mint, and a splash of ginger ale). And then, I had to give it a second try — you know, just to make sure that the first one wasn’t a delicious fluke. (It wasn’t.) And then I had to give it a THIRD try… Err, ok ok, just kidding. Only two (I swear!). I shared the Porcini Flatbread, which cast its spell on me as soon as I got my first whiff of truffle oil… Oh, I’m such a sucker for truffle-anything. I’d give the flatbread a high ranking. It was followed by the pan-seared scallops, which were extremely tasty as well, although a bit too buttery/creamy for my liking. I do not blame the scallops though; they did their job, I just happened to be in the mood to go slightly out of my comfort food-zone and was inspired by the predominantly seafood menu. I definitely owe Granary Tavern another visit, but with so many other places to try I am not sure how or when I will get back there. If nothing else, I hope to at least spread the word that Granary Tavern is definitely worth at least a good drink and a yummy flatbread.

Somerville sunset. Somerville, MA.

Somerville sunset. Somerville, MA.

Lastly, for this entry, I feel like Cambridge 1 deserves a nod. So, I live with a pizza editor/food writer, which makes it very hard not to be critical of (or impressed with, if such is the case) the Boston pizza scene. It seems the strength is in flatbreads, not the deeper-crust or “NYC slice” styles, and I’m ok with that. One day, I met a friend for lunch at this cozy Harvard Square spot, which I hadn’t even noticed after walking by it at least 100 times. Unassuming from the outside, I was happily surprised upon entering the simple warehouse-like space. It was a dreary day, and the green of an outside pre-winter tree lit up the large back  window, illuminating the otherwise beer-hall brown benches of the restaurant. I went with the Iceberg Lettuce Wedge (drizzled generously with a shallot vinaigrette), followed by the Spinach, Artichoke Hearts, Chevre, and roasted Tomato pizza, per the waitress’ recommendation when I couldn’t decide. The pizza was fantastic — although it could have been hotter, and the salad wedge was refreshingly crunchy. I returned a separate evening to find that the place was a different scene at night. It was totally packed, and I actually had to wait 30 minutes to sit down. Ordering the Bolognese Meat Sauce pizza the second time around was a mistake, as it was a soggy experience, thus taking away the initial satisfaction I felt with my first pizza choice (Note to self: trust the waitress). Nevertheless, a great beer selection and satisfying flavors (despite lackluster texture) made Cambridge 1 a very convenient and pleasant option to keep on file.

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Leaves. Cloud forest in Mindo, Ecuador.

So there you go. Winter is all about staying warm with good food, good people, and sure, some good booze. I am feeling inspired to take on the Boston winter and take advantage of the many places that make this city so beloved by its inhabitants. I might be a New Yorker at heart, but at least for several more months, I am a Bostonian/Cantabrigian (I’m sorry, but I count both cities as my home right now). So, bring on the restaurants, the bars, the museums, and the accents because I’ve still got some serious Beantown exploring to do. (Suggestions welcome and encouraged!)

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Filed under Boston, Food, List, Massachusetts, Somerville, Winter

Storm Stories

Congratulations! Most of you have the day off… Now what?

Let’s face it: most of us on the East Coast are at home listening to the rain, watching the wind rattle the trees, joking about the hurricane (hopefully, the joke won’t be on us…eek), and attending to our multiple newsfeeds to figure out just how nasty this storm Sandy is gonna get. Our recent Hurricane spectrum is pretty simple: it goes from Irene (wimpy) to Katrina (disastrous), and most of us expect Sandy to land somewhere in the middle. It’s hard to imagine what a “Perfect Storm” means until you see it, but let’s hope the East Coast can handle this one.

My cousin observing some of the flooding caused by Hurricane Irene at our house upstate. Dutchess County, NY.

So, what are you gonna do today? Are you bundled up at home, nervous about that big tree next to your house? Or are you on the 30th floor of a high-rise looking the storm clouds in the eyes, waiting for it to wrap around your world and shake it up just a little? I’m used to living in an apartment building, where power doesn’t really go out [Exception: the BLACKOUT! Remember that one? Whew, we’ll talk more about it in a second…], and “evacuating” isn’t usually necessary… A post-Katrina world has made these storm threats more real, but it’s hard to imagine NYC becoming so vulnerable. That said, I have seen my share of storms, and only time will tell where Sandy decides to land in the storybook. I hear her right now, hissing and howling outside my window, but the worst of her wrath his expected to hit tonight.

Post-Irene Rainbow. Dutchess County, NY.

Ya know, New York acts all tough, and it’s sure as hell been through a lot… But I can count the number of times the entire city has been shut down/turned “off” on one hand… and it doesn’t take up many fingers. My family is there, nestled in an apartment that is under renovation (no kitchen) on the Upper West Side, right next to the Hudson River which is supposed to swell with water and might flood the surrounding areas. I’m not a worrier with this sort of thing (my mom is out taking a walk right now… eek!), but I also am not one to ignore a severe weather threat. I’m cautiously hopeful that everything will be ok… but I respect a stiff breeze, and I’ve seen what bad weather can do.

Frog in the lawn. Hurricane Irene. Dutchess County, NY.

Here in Massachusetts — I don’t know, maybe I should be more worried than I am. Really, I’m more concerned for my family and my city than myself right now. Apparently this the first storm to directly hit NYC in 118 years — and it aint no joke. So, to distract myself and all you other people holed up at home with not much to do, I have decided to revisit the storms (or storm-like events) of TwT past. I present to you a list of Tavel’s Favorite Storm(ish) Stories:

1. The Blackout: OH yeah — you remember. Everyone remembers it. This was my favorite storm-like event (despite it having nothing to do with weather, shush) because it was just so freakin’ bizarre. It was like taking NYC and everything NYC is known for –lights, energy, colors, movement, noise — and flipping it completely inside out into a dark, cautious silence for a day. Not to mention, we were hosting a wedding at my parents’ house in Upstate NY the following weekend, which kept things tense and exciting! (This seems to be a trend — we’ll get to Irene in a second…) I was walking out of Central Park with my friend J when the power went out. We approached a traffic light, and it wasn’t working. “That’s weird…” I told him. “I’ve never seen a traffic light go out.” Then, we walked from Central Park West down Columbus Avenue. A lady was yelling out her window to a guy downstairs “I think the whole building has lost power!” A few buildings later, we heard someone saying “I think it’s the whole block…” The word terrorism flew out of a few people’s mouths as we looked up and around to try and understand what the heck was going on. Another block later, we heard someone say, “I hear it’s the whole Upper West Side!” People started pouring out of the subway stops. Car radios blasted the news with people crowded around listening. Eventually a calm descended upon the nervous city when terrorism was ruled out. My dad was flying into Newark Airport within an hour of the Blackout. Luckily, he landed safely at a confused airport. As the sun went down, the stoops filled with neighbors sharing wine and laughs… One of the brightest cities in the world went from electric to candle-lit. Long story short, despite initial concern and lots of glances at airplanes overhead, it turned out to be one of the coolest NYC nights of my life. What could have been a terrible night turned into a beautiful, romantic evening spent walking up and down Broadway amongst happy, wide-eyed New Yorkers. There were candles everywhere as free ice cream and bagels were generously distributed at every turn. I’ll never forget it.

2. Hurricane Irene: OK, so some of you don’t think this was a big deal. Well, try hosting a wedding at your own 150+ year house for 140 people the day it hit… Yeah. we did that. Despite how potentially disastrous it may sound (and could have been), everything turned out to be PERFECT. Trust me when I say that a hurricane is much more fun when you’re dressed up, there are two brides, and you’re dancing to a live band under a tent filled with family and friends. The power stayed on for the wedding itself, but the party continued for the next couple of days without electricity, and with 17 people (including family from Argentina and the Caribbean island of Sint Maarten) spending the night under one roof. Luckily, we had musical instruments, leftover catering, tons of wine and hundreds of candles to ride out the storm . In retrospect, I can’t think of a better way to spend a wedding weekend.

3. Hurricane Bob: What, you don’t remember Bob? That’s probably because it was before the snarky hype-machines of the Internet days, circa 1991… But did you know it was one of the costliest hurricanes to ever hit New England?! I watched Bob make landfall from the top of a rickety wooden staircase overlooking the beach at a house we used to rent in Greenport, Long Island (one of my favorite places in the world, FYI). My brothers and sisters and I ran outside with my parents and neighbors to feel the storm for ourselves. I was eight-years-old, and I remember the waves crashing about 50 feet in front of me, feeling raindrops hit my face like tiny shards of glass. I remember jumping up, and landing somewhere different. Our house rattled and lost electricity, trees came down and the giant boulders along the beach that we knew so well were totally rearranged into foreign clusters the next morning… I think this was my first most memorable encounter with Mother Nature, and I’ve had some respect for her ever since.

No electricity? No problem! This is how Tavels deal with a power outtage. Dinner for 17! Tavel Home, Dutchess County, NY.

So there ya have it. Storms can be scary, and I by no means want to undermine the potential devastation of this one. I wish for everyone to get through it safely, and for there to be minimal damage to people’s homes and businesses. But I also see storms as an opportunity for people to bond over candlelight and wine. It is a reminder that sometimes, we don’t have much control over that world out there… but we are all in this thing together.

If you have a moment, please share a storm story of your own! How will you be spending this Hurricane Monday? I want to hear from you, but above all, stay SAFE!!

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Filed under Boston, Life Stuff, Massachusetts, Natural Disasters

Sweet, Friendly, and Homemade

Last night, as the temperature dropped just past comfortable and I read my Anatomy & Physiology textbook in bed, I realized that it was time. I walked over to the window, contemplated the need for another set of hands, decided I could do it by myself, and I removed my AC unit. This moment is always bittersweet, as it represents The End (of summer, at least). By now we all know how I feel about summer…

Sea Lion basking in the sun. Galapagos, Ecuador.

It wouldn’t be right for me to let summer go without acknowledging a few more of the places that made this summer post-Physics so sweet. And it’s not just the places; it’s the people I’ve been hanging out with here in Cambridge/Boston. I feel like I’ve made some really great new friends, and I’m kind of loving it. But who wants to read about that? BORING!

Praying in a church in Salta. Salta, Argentina.

SWEET CHEEKS Q: Let’s start with Sweet Cheeks Q. It was mid-August, and my roommates and I had yet to do a roommate dinner. Having an in-the-know food editor roommate has its perks in moments like this. Considering that it was already August and I had yet to consume anything drenched in BBQ sauce, I was delighted when she suggested this happenin’ spot (which, for those who don’t know, is owned by Tiffani Faison — the tough red-head from Boston who appeared in “Top Chef,” Season 1 — and almost won). Also, for those who don’t know, I was the PR Intern for Food & Wine (and Travel + Leisure) magazine when they were filming the first season of “Top Chef.” I helped when the PR team was media-training “Top Chef” judge, Gail Simmons and hung out with her quite a bit (she was awesome, btw). So anyways, yes, I was excited about this meal (can you tell yet?!). Fortunately, Sweet Cheeks Q delivered on all fronts.

I will start where every dining experience begins — the bread. Before delving into the stack of fried okra (which I’ll get to in a second), four oversized, warm biscuits arrived with a sprinkle of sugar and a dish of what I thought was butter. As soon as I put the first bite in my mouth, I was blown away. No, this was not just butter. This was HONEY butter. And holy crap, was it DELICIOUS! Tiffani, you had me at honey butter…

But then it kept going. We ordered the fried okra, which couldn’t have been cooked better, as well as a few solid Southern-inspired cocktails. By the time dinner arrived, I was already pretty satisfied… And then I tried the pulled chicken. Look, I’ve had my share of pulled chicken. It doesn’t sound very special, but let me tell ya — this was the BEST pulled chicken I have ever had. In fact, I’m not sure how you can make a better pulled chicken. It was smokey, salty (but not too salty), tender, soft, and straight-forward — no sauce slapped all over it, no anything-else sprinkled throughout it — just delicious, mouth-watering, well-made pulled chicken. Other notable standouts were the pork belly, the pulled pork, and the Cita’s Broccoli. I’ll forgive her for the brisket being a little dry because, when even the cole slaw is good, you know you’ve got a winner.

Eye contact with an Alpaca. Cotopaxi, Ecuador.

THE FRIENDLY TOAST: On a more casual note, let’s talk about brunch. In NYC, going to brunch isn’t a matter of IF but a question of WHERE? It is one of my absolute favorite things, yet brunch seems to be under-appreciated here in Boston. Sure, maybe it’s unnecessary to spend money on pancakes and eggs when they are so easy to make at home, but what better way to start a Saturday or Sunday than with BOTH, plus a side of friendship?! Well, The Friendly Toast had all the brunch items I could have wanted (pancakes, fruit, waffles, bagels (!!), eggs). The vibe is different from my usual NYC brunch spots — there were more tattoos, and it was sort of like a funky diner colliding with a hipster cafe, plus lots of kids. Our server was very friendly (like the toast!), and everything tasted just like I needed it too — with no surprises and no gimmicks. Brunch spot: found!

Baby. Galapagos Islands, Ecuador.

The rest of the places I want to mention — like Hawthorne’s, the classy bar-in-a-hotel (that had a zebra print couch, and represented a different Boston “scene” than I had experienced until then), where I got to taste some really special cocktails, or Yenching which, at the opposite end of the spectrum, was my first Cambridge Chinese restaurant, and surprisingly satisfying — will just have to slip under the radar for now.

Guy hanging out. Old Town Quito, Ecuador.

As fun as all these restaurants have been, one of my favorite things about being in Boston is spending time in people’s homes, and cooking together — something I did much less of in NYC, where the size of a kitchen was inversely proportional to the cost of having it.

One of my favorite nights thus far was spent at a new friend’s home in the North End. W invited me to his and his wife’s place for dinner, where we began by drinking whiskey sodas and wine while devouring the most incredible cheeses I’ve had in a long time (North End — I’m coming back for more!). But hang on… the night really began with a thunderstorm — and not just your average thunderstorm. This bad boy was RIDICULOUS. Low and behold — I did not have an umbrella. I arrived at W’s house soaked to the bone — the kind of wet that squishes when you walk and leaves soggy footprints behind you. While this may seem miserable, I was quickly given a pair of W’s finest sweatpants, as well as a sweatshirt. This “dinner party” became a sweatpants and pasta-making party very quickly, and ya know what? It couldn’t have been better. We spent the next few hours laughing while kneading and drying pasta dough. Meanwhile W — who is Italian (shocked?) — made an incredible pasta sauce. We finished things off with some homemade almond biscotti. Although I could barely move at the end of the night, sometimes getting home around 2am after a home cooked meal (in someone else’s sweatpants) is better than any nice restaurant experience.

Makin’ pasta in the North End. Boston, MA.

What I like about being in Boston is that life doesn’t revolve around where you go to eat and what neighborhood you grab drinks in. Not that NYC is all about that (please, I am NOT hating on NYC — I LOVE NYC! So there), but my life here in Boston has been much more about the people I’ve met than the places I’ve been. As much as I love going to new restaurants and new bars, and experiencing new neighborhoods (and yes, I am loving the explorations! Keep the restaurants coming!), what I like even more is the new people with whom I’m exploring all these places…

So, that’s kind of where it’s at.

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5 Spots Within The Squares

The lawnmower roars next door as a sweet, grassy summer breeze floats through my bedroom. It’s all becoming home, more and more each day, and my daily explorations of the neighborhood and all its surrounding Squares (Porter, Davis, Harvard, Union, Inman) is beginning to pay off.

I wouldn’t exactly call myself a local just yet, but I’m beginning to shed some of my New York skin. For example, I try not to walk around with my usual “don’t fuck with me” face (feel free to ask to see this some day, it’s obviously really intimidating though, so consider yourself warned). I smile at strangers sometimes. I even whisper the words “slow down” to myself when I’m walking (sometimes).

Old San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Life moves at a very different pace in this town (oops, I mean city – sorry Somerville/Cambridge!) and, even though I’m used to a much faster pace, I think I’m beginning to catch up in this land of less intensity.

By now I’ve discovered some promising little Somerville spots, which I’d like to share with you before the Physics storm hits (yes, this would be “the calm”). Here is a short list of 5  places that have made me smile in one way or another, so far.

Statue in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Union Square Farmers Market – Sure, in NYC I had the (dare I say “real?”) Union Square Farmer’s Market… so I can’t exactly say this is a first. But these farmer’s markets are very different. I always dreamed of living somewhere where I could walk to a farmer’s market every Saturday and stock up on freshly baked breads, excessive amounts of leafy greens, and things I never cook with, such as rhubarb, just because I can. Now, this weekly outing will become a part of my life. Yes, there are great sources of fresh, local produce in NYC. But, for better or worse, my Saturday mornings usually led me to some delicious brunch spot instead. Having a weekly farmer’s market within walking distance is my little country fantasy coming to life! (YES, I know I am not in the “country” — give me a little more credit, people!) The Union Square Farmer’s Market might not be very big (by NYC standards), but I can still buy overpriced bags of spinach, wild flowers, or local strawberries, and end up with way more than I need for the week. Maybe a Saturday morning trip to the farmer’s market will begin to replace my intense Saturday brunch tradition. When in Somerville…

Casa B – The first night I met one of my roommates, she and her Romanian boyfriend took me to Casa B. Casa B is everything I never thought I’d find “just down the street.” This newish, trendy restaurant is an interesting contrast to the somewhat off-beat little neighborhood (Union Square) full of Brazilians and Koreans. But the Latin-flare tapas restaurant quickly won me over when I walked inside; it was a modern and sleek upstairs, with fresh white tables and stylish details, but more sultry and seductive downstairs — although still comfortable enough for a gathering of friends. I was immediately satisfied with its delicious orangey sangria and a summery fava bean spread, which we generously applied to plantain chips and devoured alongside a revolving selection of tapas (the most memorable of which was the tabla de ceviches and a special vegetarian dish full of fresh, local legumes and wasabi-yuca). The place earned bonus points for having kalimotxo — a very common and popular drink in Barcelona, which consists of red wine, Coca Cola, and a splash of grenadine. While the bill added up (as it always does when ordering tapas), I’d come back here the next time I have something to celebrate… Or, just because.

3 Little Figs – One of my favorite treats is an adorable cafe. This little spot is as cute as its name. While I have yet to sample its salads, sandwiches and baked goods (I know, I know… how can I even put it on the list already!?), I did sample its chai — and it passed with flying colors. Not to mention, the staff was friendly, the ambience was happy, sunny, and bright — perfect for hanging out alone or meeting a friend for coffee, and I love that it is small enough that you know you’re somewhere precious, but available enough that I can people-watch out the big glass windows (the very few people who pass by) from a solid high chair, with my chai at my side, and my physics textbook in front of me. An hour of sitting will bring in just enough customers that I am neither distracted, nor bored. And the lighthearted vibe ensures that — even if I’m studying — I’ll be happy.

Bloc 11 – This is “that cafe” that I always want to have nearby — the one with the good coffee, the hipster on his Macbook in the corner (ok, maybe that’s not a requirement), and a mean salad (I already have a favorite — the Wisteria, which consists of hard boiled egg, pear, caramelized onion, dried cranberries and almonds topped with blue cheese and a pomegranate vinaigrette). Bloc 11 is going to be one of my regular spots for studying, or meeting a friend for an iced tea. That, I can promise.

Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum – OK fine, this is in Boston not directly in Somerville, but it is going on the list anyway because I can’t NOT mention it. When my roommate described The Gardner Museum, she gave me a good idea of what to expect. It was enough to get me to go, without ever having heard of it (but apparently everyone else has). The second I walked in, it hit every love-of-humanities-and-art chord in my science-filled soul that I didn’t even know I was looking to hit. The museum is absolutely wonderful; the Moorish architecture, the impressive collection of Italian art… It’s truly a remarkable place, and I felt temporarily transported to Venice and Southern Spain while I wandered the many rooms of the palace (yep, I said palace). Built in the home of the New York City-turned Bostonian socialite, Isabella Stewart Gardner, it houses her private collection of art – and a very eclectic one at that. There is plenty more to say about the museum and the art, and probably Isabella, but I’d rather you check it out for yourself. This is going to be the museum I recommend to everyone who visits me in Boston from now on. You might as well put it on your itinerary.

Side view of El Morro, in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico.

OK, I need to dash out in the sun. Since it feels like Brazil weather out there, here’s a little music to get you in the sweaty, Brazilian summer mood. Eat a mango, play this song, and keep the AC off — we wait all year for this heat, so no complaining! Happy summer, everyone!

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