Category Archives: Massachusetts

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

My Trip to Philly

It had been a while since I was in Philadelphia. I’ll start by saying that I’ve been many times before — but, never just for me. I was excited about this trip — it was a trip speckled with memories here and there, but focused on excitement about my future, which could potentially begin in yet another East Coast city.

Entering a dark NYC, 2nd Avenue. NYC, post-Sandy.

With a trip scheduled three days after Hurricane Sandy’s foray across the tristate region, I thought I’d be ok. I had found cheap Amtrak tickets from Boston South Station to Philadelphia’s 30th Street Station leaving Thursday afternoon and returning late Saturday night. The weather looked nice, and my schedule was wide-open. But, as many travels with Tavel go, it wasn’t quite that simple.

Taxi in the dark. Midtown Manhattan.

As most of you know, there was still no electricity in downtown Manhattan and most tunnels were flooded. Penn Station was closed, all Northeast Corridor Amtrak trains were shut down, and buses were not able to pass through the darkened city. It was the day before my trip, so I knew I’d have to scramble up some plan Bs. I was absolutely determined to make it down to Philadelphia, and I was not about to let a little biggest-storm-to-hit-NYC-in-100-years stop me. I had come way too far to get to this opportunity, and I’d be damned if anything got in my way now! (In my experience, it is this attitude that will get you places…)

Amtrak at 30th Street station in Philadelphia, PA. Delays, and late arrivals… Mine was the 5:19 train.

I called Amtrak on Wednesday morning with a glimmer of hope in my heart, and anticipation of complications in my gut. They told me all trains leaving Boston were not operating except for two — one of which was MINE. I asked them to double and triple check the information, and they were equally confused and excited for me when they confirmed that mine was one of two trains still scheduled to depart on time.

Bus in the dark. Manhattan.

I felt pretty awesome, but decided to check back in the afternoon because something didn’t feel right. They confirmed that my train was still scheduled to depart on time from Boston to Philly… I still didn’t believe them. I called again, Wednesday night, at which point they told me the train was now going to be leaving Boston with a final destination of New Haven, CT. This made more sense, unfortunately. NJ Transit was not running, and trains couldn’t get past Connecticut, so my problem had not been solved: it was time to explore other options.

Street view. Philadelphia, PA.

I looked up flights, which were either booked or in the $300-$450 dollar range (and apparently the closest I could get was Newark, not Philadelphia). That was way too much money, and still didn’t solve the problem of how to get to Philadelphia. I quickly checked out bus schedules — and all buses were labeled as “Canceled.” By now, it was around 4pm. Finally, I got an email (and a series of phone calls) from Amtrak telling me that my train had been officially cancelled. I had an appointment in Philadelphia at noon on Friday — that was my goal. I began to get tunnel vision (har har, no pun intended) for success… My heart started racing a little and I think I accidentally skipped dinner as I frantically began calling bus companies and looking up mass-transit news stories for the area. It became very clear that any train or bus service going through NYC (which is what I needed) was completely shut-off the day before I had to leave, and I wouldn’t know if anything was running until the next morning.

Philadelphia, PA.

I bought back-up bus tickets for Thursday, which were being sold with the promise that if the buses didn’t run I would get a full refund. At this point, the earliest bus ticket I could find was a 2:30pm bus out of South Station, arriving in NYC at 6:15pm. There was a 7:15pm bus from 34th Street (NYC) to Philadelphia, but I worried that would be too risky, so I booked the 8:15pm bus from NYC to Philly in hopes that this would help me avoid any missing-of-the-bus stress. I HATE missing-a-transfer stress. Mind you, this bus was supposed to arrive at 34th Street and 7th Avenue, in the heart of the power outage zone… But BoltBus confirmed in the morning that all buses were running (and on time!), so I had no choice but to trust them and see what happens…

In these situations, you have to think positive travel thoughts. I can’t tell you how many times I have gotten on buses or airplanes knowing that my destination might be completely out of my control. I’ve learned that sometimes you’ve just got to trust the travel fairies that you are going to make it wherever you are trying to go — and trust your gut.

Philadelphia, PA.

I actually got to South Station 45 min early and managed to get off of standby for the 2pm bus. With an extra 30 minutes of wiggle room, I felt some good travel-mojo. I began to relax a little. The bus ride was perfectly smooth, with surprisingly few delays. It only got weird when we slowly crossed a bridge into NYC, and I could see — for the first time — the darkened skyline from the bus window. As we drove past the cops, who were checking to make sure there were at least 3 people in every vehicle entering the city, the whole bus took on a hushed tone. Suddenly, we were in the city — but it was a ghost city. As the bus drove down Second Avenue, I couldn’t believe what I saw (or, what I couldn’t see). It was pitch black. The only lights were the occasional cop car, street sign or taxi cab. I looked up at black buildings, and down at quiet restaurants. Every now and then, we’d pass a series of lit up blocks. When we entered midtown, it was one of the weirdest NYC moments I have ever had: The city that never sleeps was being forced to take a nap. And like a cranky child, NYC does not do nap-time well.

Finally, the bus pulled into 34th Street at 6:35pm. I was determined to get on standby for the 7:15 bus, and sprinted off Bus #1 to get in a huge line of people on standby. I pushed to the front and asked if this was the bus to Philadelphia. It was. They were boarding, and obviously there was a little tension in the air, so the guy was pushy and said “Yeah yeah, just get on, hurry, come on…” And within 1 minute I was on another bus (total time on the ground in NYC: 5 minutes). So much for my plan to grab dinner!

Philly Street. Philadelphia. PA.

When the bus began pulling away at 6:40pm, I was a little confused (the buses to Philly left hourly at 6:15, 7:15, 8:15…). Concerned that I had taken a wrong turn, I asked the girl next to me “Is this the 7:15 bus to Philly?!” She said “No…” (Me: GULP.) Her: “…It’s the 6:15.” Ahhh! A smile spread across my face when I realized, finally, that not only was I going to get to Philadelphia after all this chaos — but I was going to get there even earlier than I had planned! It was one of the most satisfying travel moments that I’ve had in a while. I was anticipating the opposite kind of moment, so it felt that much sweeter. As the bus journeyed through the darkness, I settled in, blasting happy music, and six hours after leaving Boston, I had arrived in Philly.

City Hall. Philadelphia. PA.

Ah, Philadelphia. I’ve always really liked Philly, despite bittersweet memories of many heartfelt hellos and goodbyes out of that 30th Street train station (the lasting imprint of a long distance relationship). The city has always given me a good vibe. It comes across as a mixture of New York and New Orleans, with a smaller dose of lights and energy than Manhattan (in a good way), coupled with the bruised and impoverished outskirts of the city that seem completely disconnected yet immediately accessible from the Philadelphia most people imagine (like New Orleans). I love that it is a foodie city, even if it doesn’t come off that way at first. Because it’s definitely a little more rough around the edges than Boston, I might actually feel more at home in Philly than in New England. I was excited to be there, and to really look at it with the eyes of someone who might call it home.

Philly homes. Philadelphia, PA.

Everything I did during my quick trip, I would do again. On Saturday night, a small group of us kicked things off with unbelievably delicious cocktails at The Franklin Mortgage & Investment Co., a speakeasy-style lounge in the Rittenhouse Square area that I would have never noticed if my friend A hadn’t picked it. With a seven-page cocktail menu ranging from what I’d call a category 1 storm (listed as “Easy Going” drinks, such as the Apocalypstick — Rittenhouse Rye Whiskey, Yellow Chartreuse, Maurin Quina, Cynar, fresh lemon juice, house blackberry) to a category 5 storm (listed as “I Asked for Water, She Brought Me Gasoline” drinks, which includes the Art School Timeline — Lairds Bonded Apple Brandy, Buffalo Trace Bourbon, New York Madeira Wine, Rothman Winter Apricot Liquer, cane syrup, hopped grapefruit and mole bitters served on a rock). I could have spent many, many hours exploring the cocktail menu (and many, many dollars), but we had dinner to attend to afterwards, so my ginger-infused play on a Dark and Stormy (recommended to me by the waiter when I couldn’t decide) would have to do. Oh, and it DID.

Clothing Pin. Philadelphia, PA.

With a strong cocktail in our systems, we headed to First Friday — where we could stroll the streets of Philadelphia at night, going from art gallery to art gallery, and enjoying the quirky and sometimes odd street performers/artists along the sidewalks. After working up an appetite, we found ourselves devouring melt-in-your-mouth gnocchi with a couple bottles of our own wine (apparently PA has strange liquor laws and wine/beer-serving restaurants are hard to come by) at Giorgio’s. Giorgio himself was there, and from the moment a bowl of roasted garlic soaked in olive oil arrived at the table, I knew that if I do in fact end up in Philadelphia — Giorgio and I will meet again.

Sidewalk, homes. Philadelphia, PA.

It would be a quick trip. After a majorly satisfying and exhausting Saturday (I had a 4.5 hour interview with no lunch… oy), I was able to enjoy a light brunch and visit the perfectly relevant-to-my-trip Mutter Museum (this had been on my Philly to-do list for YEARS). This museum is a must for anyone who likes anatomical oddities or random small but packed museums. It is a pre-Doctor of Physical Therapy student’s perfect museum, and since I am currently taking Anatomy and Physiology, my visit couldn’t have been more appropriately timed, nor more appreciated. The brisk walk back to my home base through Rittenhouse Square’s cheery farmer’s market to the slightly quieter South Philadelphia ‘hood made it very easy for me to see myself living there.

Rittenhouse Square. Philadelphia, PA.

I got back to Boston at 1am last night. Luckily, my return train was fully functional, although 1.5 hours late (making it a 7.5 hour journey… oooof). I’m back now, after passing from a potential future home (Philadelphia), through my real home (NYC), to my current home, in Boston. I have a happy tummy and a happy, hopeful heart. I’ll have to be patient as I figure out where I might be able to live next year (it’s not totally up to me).

For now, I can confidently say that if it is Philadelphia, I’d be absolutely thrilled. Sometimes it’s all about where we’ve been. But right now — for me — life’s much more about where I’m going.

On my way home, the lights were back on in NYC. Amtrak view of NYC skyline.

As always, I guess we’ll just have to wait and see what happens.

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Filed under Life Stuff, Massachusetts, Natural Disasters, New York City, Philadelphia, School, Travel, Travel Disasters, Uncategorized

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

A Look Back, A Stroke Forward

Eleven years ago, I walked up the four flights of stairs to the top of Maine Hall and met some girls who would become my best friends. I had just gotten back from a 4-day backpacking and canoeing trip (no shower included), so my long braids, sun-kissed (ok, more like sun-slapped) skin, and laid back personality (I’d find out later…) had my new friends convinced I was a complete dirty West Coast hippie pot-head. Little did they know, I was far from it (a self-proclaimed goody-two-shoes in fact – although, with lots of sass!) and from New York City, but who doesn’t love a first impression?

Eights along the Charles. Cambridge, MA.

In that first semester of college, we were there for each other through September 11, painful divorces, personal struggles, first love, first hangovers, first heartbreak, and cancer in the family. We laughed harder than I have ever laughed in my life, and dealt with our first most-painful-experiences together, without having our parents to comfort us in the other room. In the years that would come, we would experience more love, and then more cancer, more heartbreak, crazy travel adventures, live-in boyfriends, and yes — more laughter that had us curled up on the floor with tears rolling down our cheeks.

Approaching a Week’s Bridge. HOCR. Cambridge, MA.

The other day, I walked into a restaurant in Cambridge where — for the first time since college — we were all together again (ok ok, with the exception of ONE, and AB you were missed!). It was a bit mind-boggling, but a beautiful time warp.

Boats. Head of the Charles. Cambridge, MA.

Everyone is the same — almost. When we first met, life was a simple clean slate. Over time, we became more complex, with layers of experiences forming grooves and bubbles in our emotional composition. Now, we’ve been through the ringer of life-in-your-twenties — and we’ve made it! We’ve been almost completely squished out of a decade that leaves its indelible mark on you in all sorts of ways. And yet, we can still come together, take a few shots (oh geez – so not my thing), go out dancing, and laugh so hard it hurts. But man, it’s amazing how much has happened between those first campus-wide dance parties at Bowdoin, and our current career paths.

Then last weekend, I reunited with the boats, the spandex, and many of the teammates that became my crew team family all four years of college. I got to see my coach, who still wears the same shirt, pants, shoes, and hat every day to practice, and the boats I spent many misty Maine mornings in, watching the sun come up and the water drift by. Some things change, some things never do.

Head of the Charles, looking up-river. Cambridge, MA.

Home can be a strange, sometimes intangible place. It can be the front door you walked up to your entire childhood, or it can be the crazy people you walked up to in head-to-toe spandex almost every morning of college. It can be the boat you spent hours in during some of the most special moments of your life, or it can be a race, a city, a second when you are surrounded by strangers. You can live a lot of places, but you only find so many homes. So far, I’m pretty darn happy with the ones I’ve found. But I’m not totally “home” just yet…

Sun sparkling off the water. Head of the Charles Regatta. Cambridge, MA.

This past weekend, as I walked around the Head of the Charles Regatta feeling old at this event for the first time, I couldn’t get over how intensely comfortable and at-home I felt among the rowers. I would have done anything to get in a boat (I tried!), not to row away from where I was but perhaps to row back to that place I remember so well. Home has become a moving target, so sometimes it’s tempting to just take a bow and arrow and aim right for the bullseye you’ve hit before.

Boats, boats, boats! HOCR. Cambrdige, MA.

Forgive the nostalgia, but two big reunions back-to-back got me thinking about time. Then, the Time Keeper at NYU passed away last week… I used to walk by him every day at NYU. He would yell at the top of his lungs “TEN MINUTES!! TEN MINUTES!” when it was ten minutes before a class starting. At under five-feet tall, I heard some nasty people yell things back at him, but he had a job to do (nobody paid him), and he wouldn’t let anyone stop him. It was a little annoying (he was LOUD and stressed a lot of students out), but he was just another part of daily life that blended in with the NYC noise. Only now that he’s silent, we want to stop and listen. So, hey. Time passing, Time Keepers, reunions… I couldn’t help myself!

Observers watch the races from Eliot Bridge. Cambridge, MA.

I’m in a weird in-between place, as I imagine some of you are too (or am I alone here?!). The grad school apps are almost complete, and the wheels are in motion for yet another life change. It’s all very exciting, I must say. Surreal, too. As I take some strokes and listen to the water drip off my oar blades, I’m rowing in a new direction I’ve never actually gone before. The surroundings have changed, but some of the people haven’t. I have no idea where this leg of the journey will take me, but I’m pretty excited to still be in my spandex, exploring. I gave up on predicting what might be around the next turn a long time ago. So, for now, I guess I’ll just keep on rowing.

The end of a beautiful day of races. Head of the Charles. Cambridge, MA.

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10 Days of Fall-ing

There is a sweet spot every fall when the leaves seem to change color overnight. Green becomes yellow, and yellow eventually falls away forever, only to be replaced by new green. Even when change is gradual, it can sometimes sneak up on us. I decided it wouldn’t sneak up on me this year.

In an attempt to capture this sweet moment when green becomes yellow in the trees (and green becomes yellow in my life), I took one photo a day for ten days, all from the same spot before 10am. It’s harder to capture this moment when life changes a little, but at least we can watch it happen in the trees. Also, this is a good reminder to everyone that it’s ok to fall… Sometimes, falling is pretty beautiful isn’t it? Enjoy.

Day 1

Day 2

Day 3

Day 4

Day 5

Day 6

Day 7

Day 8

Day 9

Day 10

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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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