October 1st. Before we go on, please click this excellent piece from McSweeney’s about decorative gourds, and read it when you are done with my rambling. Or you can just go ahead and read it now. Yes, go ahead, I’ll wait.
Today I took several quite excellent morning still life shots of my coffee, my banana and my morning reading. Without the memory card in my camera. The last time this happened was when I sat with my mother to divvy up the first installment of our Year of Beans from Rancho Gordo. Hundreds of beautiful shots that exist only in my own memory.
To console myself, I headed out on a morning run. My almost always trusty Garmin was having trouble with the overcast sky reading satellites, so I started the timer without the gps, and turned on my Runkeeper app on my phone. Almost as soon as I headed out, I got a call from my mom who was on the way to buy new sneakers at one of my favorite running shops. Having never actually run while talking on the phone, I was surprised to find out that this was a good way to pass the time, and that my Runkeeper app worked beautifully coaching me as I chatted away. Until, of course, my phone just shut off completely. Upgrading to a new phone is looking more and more exciting.
Fortunately, I had arrived at Heartbreak Hill Running Company, which was almost exactly 2 miles away. I stood outside drinking from their igloo cooler for runners, and then wandered in to pick out something to reward myself with when I complete my very first 10k on Monday! New shoes? A foam roller? Cold-weather gear? I haven’t decided.
Speaking of heartbreak, I noticed this on my way back. This is spray painted on someone’s driveway. Actually, I don’t even want to talk about it. I’ll say this – I may have never been so excited for the start of basketball season in my life.
My run ended up being 4 miles in just over 45 minutes, and an extra half mile of walking in order to get the 30 consecutive minutes on my Runkeeper to make my gym-pact.
Lunch ended up being extra good. I seasoned some fresh ham steak (from M.F. Dulock) with salt, pepper, and Herbes de Provence, heated up some roasted butternut squash, and served it with a salad of mixed baby greens and lemon juice. It took 10 minutes to put together, and felt mighty fancy.
In the evening, Devon and I had a date night at Target. This is a close second to our other favorite date – IKEA. Except IKEA has Swedish meatballs, dollar cones, and sofas we can sit on and pretend we are relaxing in our own home on. There we were, milling about minding our own business… Romance! And then I saw this:
I mean, I thought I’d seen it all before. “Lose 20 by New Years!” , “Lose 10 pounds this month!” but 47 pounds by Thanksgiving? I feel like we all have to say a collective prayer for humanity.
For the record, after having a near tantrum of disgust in the store, I went home to look up this magazine, and I found this on their Facebook page. “FIRST for Women is a national consumer magazine that delivers positive info on everything from health and nutrition to beauty and fitness to home and family. Look for it at the grocery store checkout and in superstores like Walmart.” I call bull-shit.
Moving on to happier things. Like this dinner.
Ground beef with cumin, chile, a tomato, and some zucchini/garlic/tomato/onion from the Whole Foods salad bar again topped with some tomatillo salsa I picked up at Trader Joe’s. I ate mine with half an avocado, and Devon got his with some re-fried beans.
After dinner we lounged around watching Breaking Amish on TLC, and reading before bed. I won’t lie, after assuming that this series would be exploitative and cringe-worthy, I’ve found myself impressed by what seem to be a bunch of (mostly) thoughtful and likeable young men and women tackling big life questions. On that note, remember when the Real World used to be a good show on MTV? It’s been a while.
I think it comes with the territory, living on either coast – you spent more time sending away friends than you care to. I certainly understand the wanderlust, but it’s always sad when you have that last coffee with a friend before they head off to new things. I find it regretful that illustrious written correspondences are a thing of the past, and now we seem to only have the internet. The internet doesn’t make up for the days when it’s raining and chilly, and you both exhale as you walk into the cafe together and share warm comfort and the details of your day.
I made the trip in the pouring rain to 3 Little Figs in Somerville to say a bittersweet goodbye to Emily yesterday. She’ll be making her way out to San Francisco next week, and I’ll miss her.
3 Little Figs is remarkably cute. It was the perfect escape from the rain and grey that has settled over the city. The cafe is filled with more smiling friends having conversations over coffee and treats than silent folks with computers (although there were still some of these, though they shut off their wi-fi on weekends).
After discussing our futures, good people from Tiburon, and the merits of media mail, I sent her off into the rain, and headed over to M.F. Dulock to console myself and pick up my weekly pastured meat fix. The case was brimming with good stuff this week. Every time I go I’ve purchased something new.
I left with pork stir fry, ground beef, boneless beef shanks, a fresh ham steak, and some homemade chorizo. Before heading back, I made stops at Formaggio (for fresh eggs and black olives), Trader Joe’s (Sardines, coconut milk, a coffee sample, and a few goodies for Devon), and Whole Foods (all the vegetables growing in fall). Yes, I could have shopped in one place, but food shopping is my favorite activity ever.
When I got home, I made myself breakfast, a few eggs simply cooked with nothing on them.
In the afternoon, lunch was sardines. Yes, sardines, again. Two days in a row if you are counting. This time I made a salad of sardines and black olives, over several fistfuls of baby greens, with a few good squeezes of lemon.
To warm myself up, I spent all afternoon roasting things as I worked. There were carrots and parsnips in coconut oil with rosemary, a sliced acorn squash with cumin, salt and chile, and cauliflower florets with a handful of garlic cloves.
For the second round of the oven, I roasted zucchini with garlic, and a whole butternut squash.
For dinner I fried up some chicken thighs with salt, pepper, and a little bit of garlic powder.
Devon got his with a Caesar salad and some acorn squash. I made mine into a big salad with a few of each of the vegetables I roasted today.
For dessert, I snacked on a banana bread LÄRABAR. After dinner, we sat around and watched Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves because we were both too lazy to turn the channel.
Yesterday I met up with a lovely woman named Anna for coffee at Formaggio Kitchen. She brought along Alex, her sweet mellow baby and we sat outside and talked for a good long time while Alex ate cheerios and keenly observed trucks and dogs and bicycles.
Having worked busily in my very small office this year without much reprieve, I’d forgotten how nice it is to have long conversations with new people. It re-charges you. Inspires you. Makes you feel like skipping down the street, which you avoid doing when you are an “adult” because someone will look at you disapprovingly. Don’t worry about them – they can live their miserable lives – you go ahead and skip if you feel like it! Have that coffee with someone new. You won’t regret it.
Before heading home, I picked up this sandwich to go.
Anna’s Big Jim : ham, salami & cheddar or Swiss on ficelle. Pressed in the panini press. Usually I get the ficelle with sesame seeds on it, but they were out. It looks huge, but it’s actually quite modestly sized – that is my smallest salad plate. It’s a perfect combination of bread, cheese and meat, and reminds me of Paris in the summertime.
MEM Russian Caravan (pot, $2.50)
Cafenation, Brighton, Massachusetts
I thought it might be fun to create a list of different types of tea to try – the basis of my tea curriculum. So, I came up with one – that little flow chart in the picture above. Included are green teas, white teas, black tea, oolong, pu-erh, rooibos, mate and other herbal infusions. Some are true teas, others are not.
There is a lot of tea out there to drink. How do you narrow it down? Most grocery stores have a good half aisle devoted to tea. I actually snapped a few illicit tea photos in Whole Foods to see if I was missing anything obvious. It’s always shocking to me how many types of tea each brand carries! One possibility for this project is making it simpler for myself – working through all the teas imported by MEM Tea Imports and Samovar, but that still won’t get me to 500. (Although if either were to sponsor me, I’d be one happy tea drinker! Please??)
So, my goal, I think, is for quality rather than quantity, and making sure to get a good representation of different families of tea. I plan on working methodically, and going on the hunt for some really special experiences.
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Another aspect of this project is the excuse to acquire tea paraphernalia. Even though I most commonly drink hot tea out of a glass (just like Michael Pollan, apparently), I’m fascinated with all sorts of tea cups, pots, kettles and brewing contraptions.
I love this wonderful infographic by Wendy Chan on the taxonomy of teas. It includes several tea drinking countries around the world, represented both by type of tea drunk, and the cups used. I love it!
And a close-up of the center of the tea wheel:
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And finally, a few notes about my experience. Cafenation is in Brighton on Washington Street. It’s sort of an odd location, but the window ledge is a nice place to read a book and sip a pot of tea.
To drink, I went with the Russian Caravan, and added cream to complement the smokiness. I oversteeped it as I drew my little flow chart, but I never mind a little bitterness in my tea.
Russian Caravan is a blend of Chinese black teas, named after the caravans that used to import teas from China to Europe. It’s deep and smoky, and reminds me of old men arguing and playing backgammon.
There were three notable occurrences this trip, which reminded me how fascinating humanity can be:
1. I sat behind a fellow wearing big headphones who took out about 25 pens and put them on the ledge, and proceeded to organize them and stick them in some sort of putty like he was making a Christmas Pomander (an orange studded with cloves).
2. A Russian gentleman, who actually ordered Russian Caravan tea and asked for “room”, proceeded to pour what must have been more than 1/4 cup of honey in his cup.
3. Two people sat next to me one table over, hugging. Yes, hugging, in full embrace, for at least five minutes until their order was ready.
And that was it. I spent several hours there, unconnected, computer-less, writing lists and thinking about tea. I’m looking forward to seeing where this project goes.
What type of tea are you drinking?
I’ve been having a lot of fun “re-discovering” the South End neighborhood of Boston. It’s definitely the up and coming place to live, shop and eat in the Boston area.
The South End has gone through massive changes over the past several decades, and I remember when it was a different place entirely. In the 80’s and early 90’s, my aunt and uncle lived in the South End in a gorgeous bow-front (with my two very young cousins), and ended up moving out when someone got stabbed to death on my aunt’s car.
But the neighborhood has fought back, and people have come together. Small businesses have been the life blood of this community, and a lot of people took big risks that have been paying off. In food, Hammersley’s has been going strong for over 20 years now, Barbara Lynch has three outposts – B&G Oysters, The Butcher Shop, and Stir; Joanne Chang’s Flour Bakery + Café flagship is here, as is Ken Oringer and Jamie Bisonnette’s Toro (and Coppa, which I’m desperate to try).
In addition to eating, the South End is also the place to shop. Firstly, SoWa Open Market is Boston’s portal to Brooklyn and the Mission: a vibrant market, part farmers’ market, part craftsman market, part flea market. Then there is Hudson – not the jeans– where I might shop I had unlimited funds. They have an outpost in Wellesley where I used to go and covet things in college. And then, among the treasures of the South End is Lekker Unique Home Furnishings.
Lekker is one of those places that has the perfect gift for almost anyone. The store was opened by Natalie van Dijk Carpenter, a Dutch woman with incredibly good taste (lekker!) and curation skills.
The good thing about Lekker is that you can shop on a budget for yourself, or say for a hostess gift, and find some really excellent things. The store is filled with useful and stylish kitchen tools, candles, and local cookbooks. They also have some really graceful flatware and cutlery that I’d like to acquire. Or, if you are lucky enough to have generous resources, you can also find some fantastic furniture here.
I was particularly enthusiastic about that grey Jackson Chair, but it may in fact have been the most expensive item in the store at $3,650, alas.
This time, I got to go into Lekker with a hundred dollar credit from local Boston-based mobile payment service LevelUp. LevelUp allows you to pay with a unique QR code that is assigned to you – by whipping out your phone, opening the LevelUp app, and getting your code scanned at participating locations.
The big strength of LevelUp is that they work with community businesses to offer small credits at each location, and reward repeat shopping by offering better credits the more you frequent a particular establishment. The user interface is clean, and the process is simple. You store your credit card information securely, and can pay a tip with the app as well. In Boston, the majority of the merchants participating are restaurants, but it seems like a no-brainer to expand to all types of local businesses, particularly because of LevelUp’s low transaction fees.
I’ll be interested in how they scale in the longterm, and how they will compete with Google Wallet , Square, and whoever decides to throw themselves into the mobile payment space next.
I strongly believe that mobile payments and digital receipts are the way of the future, and am looking forward to the day when I can dispense of plastic credit cards and paper receipts completely.
After an hour of browsing – dreaming, touching the curved lips of the bowls and mugs, stroking the softest blankets, and sitting on each of the chairs in the shop – I ended up picking up the Hakusan Tea Pot and set of cups (the white and brown one above, with the stippling on the porcelain). It’s a nice addition to my home, and great incentive to make myself happy with my tea project.
1317 Washington Street Boston, MA 02118-2139
Have you been in a convenience store lately? It used to be that you could only find sad packages of stale sunflower seeds, Slim Jims, or half smushed Hostess snack packs, but not much else. You may have been able to buy your late night desperation pint of ice cream, but usually it wasn’t the good flavor. For decades, convenience stores weren’t filled with what one wanted, but rather what one, in a moment of irrationality, believed they needed.
Now I have certainly been grateful at times for the salvation of convenience stores: that Snickers bar in Fort Bragg after driving unintentionally three hours up the Pacific Coast Highway without having eaten all day, and the air conditioning in a Buttonwillow gas station when it was 120°F come to mind. But these experiences have been few and far between. It used to be that I wouldn’t stop in one unless I was truly desperate.
I am here to share that times are ‘a changing. In New England, a curious thing seems to be happening. This region has hopes and dreams for convenience stores, and is pushing for a small revolution. Taking it a new level. The ultra-convenience. Superlative convenience. Or more to the point, actually convenient. In New England, our convenience stores are marvelous and full of happy surprises. We have affectionate names for them too. Cumby’s anyone? Ours come with or without gas. And, some of them house restaurants.
Take, for instance, my latest experience: Turkish Kebab’s, located in Jay’s Newmarket Convenience.
Jay’s Convenience Store is actually a converted house. You can get your gas and your cigarettes and your six-packs, but what you really want to come for is the food. Real Turkish food. I’m not really sure which I would have found more unlikely a decade ago – having great food in a convenience store, or finding Turkish food in Newmarket, New Hampshire.
Turkish food is my comfort food, the food I crave. I grew up spending summers in Istanbul. We would visit the city where my grandmother lived, and then spend weeks on Büyükada, the biggest of the Princes’ Islands. The setting was idyllic: a beautiful island in the Bosphorus, with centuries old houses, no cars, and horse drawn carriages. You’d take your tea in the afternoon on the waterfront, watching the ferry boats come in from the city, their passengers visibly relaxing as they got off the boats. We’d swim, and bike, and walk through the neighborhoods. But mostly, we’d eat.
The street food culture in Turkey is diverse and enticing at every corner. There are Dönerci’s selling döner kebap – meat cooked on a rotating spit, and shaved thinly (similar to schwarma). You can get kebabs in sandwiches, or midye tava (fried mussels) with a nut sauce called tarator, or stuffed mussels taken straight from the Bosphorus and cooked on the sidewalk. Or you can get lahmacun, (lah-ma-joon) a thin Turkish flatbread with lamb, filled with lettuce and lemon, and wrapped up to eat on the go. There is Tost – which is the best grilled cheese you will ever eat, stuffed optionally with sucuk, a spicy sausage. Or if you need something sweet, there are pudding shops nearly everywhere, and more ice cream and waffle sellers than there are Starbucks in Manhattan.
I tend to feel sorry for myself that I live so far away from Turkey, especially in the summertime, so I was ecstatic to find Jay’s so close to home to fill myself up on the foods I was missing. I try to do a lot of Turkish cooking but you just can’t recreate döner without a large spit and a qualified chef. (It takes years of training to become a proper Dönerci).
Jay’s is filled with all sorts of treats that I crave. Kebabs – which loosely refers to almost any meat cooked on a stick – are their specialty. I’ve heard good things about their falafel, although I haven’t tried it. You can also get almost anything in sub form. They do Italian style subs as well, and some Italian home-style dishes.
They also have a large variety of Turkish salads, including Kısır, a bulgur wheat salad similar to Tabouli (they actually label it as Tabouli, but technically it is different), and hummus, and a very good eggplant salad. They have “popular” New England favorites including seafood salad, but why you would purchase that when you had Jay’s other options, I have no idea.
Turkish people also consume a lot of pastry and fried foods, and Jay’s carries many of these as well, including flaky Börek (turnovers) filled with white cheese and parsley, savory meat pies, zucchini fritters, and even some Italian arancini (rice balls) as big as your fist.
I was excited to hear the grocery section had a small collection of imported Turkish foods, because I always find myself missing things like Turkish honey, jams, and olive spreads. We typically travel over an hour to stock up on these things at Sevan in Watertown, Massachusetts, and I was looking forward to the.. erm.. close to home convenience.
Unfortunately, when we went, the entire Turkish grocery section in the back had been decimated. It turns out they had received a visit that week from a group of Turkish high-schoolers spending the month at Phillips Exeter Academy’s summer school. At least I can completely understand their impulse!
And apparently, students can also get a 15% discount on food if they show their ID. It’s probably better that they weren’t open when I was in highschool, otherwise I would have been in twice a week abusing their generosity.
This trip we all decided to order the same thing – thinly sliced döner in a Turkish lavash bread, rolled with lettuce, tomato, pickled onion, and yogurt sauce. While very tasty, I found myself finding the ratio a little off – there was actually too much meat for my preference, and I would have liked a little bit more sauce. Next time, I think I might actually get the tomato sauce their Italian cook makes rather than the more traditional yogurt. Nothing wrong with a little fusion!
We also took home some smoky Turkish eggplant salad, and some kisir, as well as some kadayif – a crispy pastry similar to baklava, except with vermicelli-like dough filled with pistachio nuts. (At some point, I’ll write a 5000 word essay on my love of Turkish pastry… the stuff is glorious.)
The one flaw of Jay’s is the lack of seating: when you are hungry, you want to eat food right away! Some quick thinking led us to the benches at Stratham Hill Park. And here, I leave you with a shot of my mother, a real live Turkish person, enjoying her sandwich. Authenticity folks, I like it.
Turkish Kebab’s Subs & Grill (in Jay’s Newmarket Convenient Store and Gas)
35 North Main Street, Newmarket, New Hampshire
603 – 659- 1500