24 hours in Portland

Last weekend, we went on a quick trip to Portland, Maine. Just two hours from Boston, it was the perfect, short getaway. Of course, for us, 24 hours in Portland might be more aptly titled, “How much food can we eat in 24 hours.” I think we did a pretty good job on that front.

Life married to a grad student. The drive up to Portland.

IMAG1460

Once we arrived in Portland, our first stop was Duckfat, where much of the food is cooked in, you guessed it, duck fat.

IMG_5844

Duckfat poutine. I’m not a huge poutine fan to begin with, but it was pretty good. Not the best fries ever, but good.

IMG_20130216_140457

The tomato soup was amazing. Even better than Roxy’s Grilled Cheese truck here in Boston.

IMAG1462

Next stop was Two Fat Cats Bakery for dessert. This place was after my own heart.

IMG_5838

IMG_5836

The pies looked delicious…

IMG_5840

…but I ultimately decided on a whoopie pie, which happens to be the official state treat of Maine. (The signs aren’t kidding when they say Maine is “the way life should be.”)

And it was the best whoopie pie I’ve ever had. The cake was light and fluffy, and not too chocolatey. And the cream was slightly more frosting-like, than cream-like. Just the way I like it.

IMG_20130216_140717

In the afternoon we checked into our hotel. The Holiday Inn By the Bay has lovely views.

IMAG1465

IMAG1466

We spent the rest of the afternoon hanging out at Bard Coffee, where the loose tea selection was amazing and they had hot white chocolate. I hear the coffee is pretty good too, but we’re not coffee drinkers.

IMG_20130216_143820

Also wandered around Old Port a bit.

IMG_20130216_175407

And then we had dinner at Fore Street, where the food rivaled the best restaurants in LA, but you’ll have to take my word for it, because I didn’t take any pictures. My husband ordered the duck and said it was the best duck he’s ever had in his life.

The next morning we awoke to snow falling.

IMAG1482

We ventured out into the snow for brunch at Schulte & Herr. It was traditional German food. Good, but not great.

Potato Pancakes with lox.

IMAG1489

Something very meat and potatoes style that my husband ordered. I think it was the special of the day.

IMAG1490

We bid farewell to Portland and headed home through the snow. With one short stop at Popovers in Portsmouth for lunch ๐Ÿ™‚

IMG_5848

Hello there, Nemo

Another snow day today. At this rate I’m going to be working all summer ๐Ÿ˜ฆ

But we did enjoy our blizzard weekend.

Here’s the progression of Nemo as seen from our window:

Our snowman waiting for the snow to begin.

IMG_5750

And the snow begins…

IMG_5749

Our neighbor shows up with his snowplow.

IMG_5751

Still not much happening outside, but we’re enjoying our hot chocolate inside.

IMG_5762

One hour later…not much has changed.

IMG_5766

Now it’s starting to stick.

IMG_5770

Last photo before it got dark.

IMG_5772

Saturday morning.

IMG_5773

Our neighbors get out their snowshoes.

IMG_5778

And our other neighbor got to work.

IMG_5782

Hey, what’s all that white stuff?

IMG_5780

Starts looking better after lots of digging.

IMG_5812

Some outside photos:

The big dig out begins.

IMG_5804

I know my car is under there somewhere.

IMG_5806

A walk through the park and down to the river.

IMG_5787

IMG_5791

This guy had the right idea.

IMG_5789

On Sunday the skies were blue and we took to the streets. As in, we used the streets as our sidewalk.

IMG_5821

Looks like some people still have some digging to do.

IMG_5819

Nothing can keep us from brunch at Cafe Luna.

IMG_5823

But all of the outside seats were taken.

IMG_5822

Now the weekend is over and it’s back to reality. A snowy, slushy, trafficy mess while giving my husband a ride to school this morning.

IMAG1453

In January…

This past month, while my husband was busy putting in 100+ hour weeks at school (“playing with Legos and shit” [his words not mine]), I did a few things too.

In January, I …

+ worked “late” a couple afternoons to finish up term 2 progress notes for my students. Yes, in my world, working late means working into the late afternoon hours, aka 4:30. It’s a rough life ๐Ÿ™‚

+ read 5 1/2 books. Here’s the list if you’re curious. Followed by my goodreads rating for those who are really curious. (my rating scale: 1= did not like; 2=ok, would not recommend; 3= good, might recommend; 4= very good; 5=great)

  • The Maze Runner by James Dashner (3 stars)
  • Tigers in Red Weather by Liza Klausmann (3 stars)
  • Lucky by Alice Sebold (3 stars)
  • The White Woman on the Green Bicycle by Monique Roffey (4 stars)
  • A Grown-Up Kind of Pretty by Joshilyn Jackson (3 stars)
  • I also started The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin and Quiet by Susan Cain, but it generally takes me about a year to finish any kind of non-fiction, so check back in December if you want my rating.
  • Currently reading: Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward

+ wouldn’t let one of my students go to the nurse. He waited 20 minutes, upped his story to “My throat tastes like blood. Can I go to the nurse now?” I begrudgingly allowed himย  to go (but only because it was almost the end of class). He was absent for the rest of the week. That Friday, I woke up and my throat tasted like blood. Damn. Sometimes karma hurts.

+ ran once. Maybe twice. But I did enjoy this sunset while running along the Charles.

+ also enjoyed seeing the Charles River covered in a dusting of snow. While walking, not running.

+ can say most of the alphabet and can almost count to 100 in French. Not very useful skills, but considering 93 in French translates to four-twenty-thirteen in English, it’s no small feat. Oui?

+ consumed this much honey. All by myself. It’s just that good.

+ ventured into vegan cooking since I didn’t have to worry about feeding my carnivorous husband.

Here are the keepers:

Squash Soup

Dinner was often accompanied by a book.

White Bean and Tomatillo Chili

white bean chili

This chili was husband-approved, although he did say, “This doesn’t look like any chili I’ve ever eaten.” Followed by, “Wait. Is this vegan?” If you have to ask, it must be good.

Hummus, avocado, and roasted tomato toast

avocado toast

Also husband-approved. I ate this several times. It’s very quick and easy.

Red Lentil and Spinach Curry

red lentil and spinach curry

Yet another husband-approved meal, but he said it was too much work. I thought it was worth it and lentils are now my new favorite food.

These could be keepers with a little work:

Pumpkin Pasta

pumpkin pasta

I think this tasted good, but my brain was having a hard time with the disconnect between it looking like it should taste like Velveeta Shells and Cheese and it actually tasting more like pumpkin pie.

Gnocchi with Brussels Sprouts and Mushrooms

vegan gnocchi

This probably would have been better if I hadn’t burned the Brussels sprouts. Pan frying gnocchi was a new concept to me, and one I think I’ll try again.

Lentils with Winter Squash

lentils with squash

This is from Mark Bittman’s How To Cook Everything Vegetarian cookbook. I love squash and like I said, lentils are my new favorite food, but this recipe needs some work. Like many of Bittman’s recipes, it was a little bland. Spice it up a little and it could be really good. [Not really a vegan meal when eaten with a cup of milk on the side ๐Ÿ™‚]

Roasted Grapefruit

roasted grapefruit

Real vegans might call this a dessert. I think it’s more of a snack, because dessert isn’t dessert unless it involves copious amounts of cream and butter. This is grapefruit with honey and cinnamon drizzled on top, then roasted in the oven for about 20 minutes. It was good, but not great. I did enjoy eating my grapefruit warm, since it was so cold outside.

This was not a keeper:

Quinoa with Caramelized Onions and Zucchini

quinoa

I’ve never enjoyed quinoa, but I thought I’d give it one more chance. I still don’t like the taste or the texture. Then my cousin shared this article about quinoa on Facebook. I’m definitely never eating quinoa again.

+ finished the month by celebrating the completion of my husband’s January term with a bunch of exhausted engineers and a healthy dose of MIT wine ๐Ÿ™‚

MIT wine

 

The holidays around here…

A few weeks ago, I ran the Winter Classic 5k here in Cambridge, where most runners were better dressed than myself. IMAG1240

And faster than me, too.

I crossed the finish line next to this reindeer.

Some holiday lights downtown.
IMG_20121128_181739

Festive light fixture.

A pile of gifts from my students.

IMAG1291

Including a poinsettia to spruce up our apartment.

I guess my students want to make sure I am sugared up and caffeinated this holiday season.

Gingerbread French Toast at Cafe Luna. Delicious.

I’ll end this post with my not-so-good photo of some delicious Christmas cookies I made. (Recipe and better photos can be found here – I use fewer chocolate chips, peppermint extract instead of vanilla and peppermint cocoa.) IMAG1270

 

For those who are interested…

…this is how I made my “Chocolate-Swirl Pumpkin Cheesecake Bars” for Thanksgiving.

I used the proportions of ingredients from this recipe (because I wanted to make a 9×13 pan). I think you could get away with using a little less sugar.

And I made a chocolate crustย  and swirled the chocolate mixture, like in this recipe. For the crust, I would recommend using more than 1 1/4 cup of crumbs. It didn’t really make much of a crust – just a very thin layer. I used Trader Joe’s Chocolate Cat Cookies for the crust, which worked perfectly.

And the end result was this.

Delicious.

 

The past few weeks…

Between writing all of my students’ progress reports, an ear infection, and a cold, it’s been pretty quiet around here lately. Nothing too exciting to report on, but we did survive a hurricane and our first snow of the season ๐Ÿ™‚

Here’s an owl from a few weeks ago (you can tell this photo is old by the number of leaves in the tree). There was a crowd gathered in the park to admire this owl and no one seemed concerned that an owl was out during the day, so I snapped a picture and carried on.

Then Hurricane Sandy came and knocked most of the leaves out of the trees. We were lucky. We didn’t lose power and there was very little damage in Cambridge. Just a few tree branches down here and there.

A few signs, too.

A chair got swept into the river. I relax in these red chairs sometimes, and they are typically bolted to the dock, so I guess it really was windy.

Of course, I had to check out the river at the height of the storm. It was pretty gusty on the bridge. You can’t really tell from the photos, but there were waves in the river.

Very minor flooding the day after the storm. This spot floods every time it rains even a tiny amount, so I’m not sure I can blame this on the hurricane.

I’m not sure that this was actually hurricane related either, but it does make it look dramatic.

After two days of school were cancelled for what appeared to be a minor storm, I was grumbling a little bit on my way back to work about how school shouldn’t have been cancelled. And then I saw this across the street from my school. I guess the suburbs were hit a little harder than the city.

And a few days later, we got our first snow, so my car looked like this when I left work. Good thing I still have my snow brush in my trunk.

It was pretty, but it didn’t last long.

I’ll spare you the pictures of my ear with blood coming out of it and share some crazy cat lady photos instead. (It’s not as dramatic as it sounds, I just an inexperienced Harvard resident poking around in my ear.)

“What? You think I’m too fat to sit here?”

“You shouldn’t let me eat these if you think I’m fat!”

[he doesn’t actually get to eat cereal…he just dreams about it and rudely sticks his nose in my bowl]

“Why is it spinning? And where is it going?”

[by the way, this is a new curiosity we are not very happy about]

And to prove I do more than sit at home and take pictures of our cat, a celebratory Obama-tini at River Gods ๐Ÿ™‚

Around here…

This is what the trees looked like last weekend.

Now there are nearly as many leaves on the ground as on the trees.

Crunching through the leaves on the sidewalks.

There are signs all over our neighborhood for a lost cat named Frank. I haven’t spotted her (yes, it’s a she) yet, but I did come across this fellow while walking over the BU bridge.

Saturday morning was hazy, but beautiful. It’s nice to see fog instead of smog.

By Saturday afternoon, the skies were clear and filled withย  some interesting rainbows. If you look closely, you can see three; my camera didn’t do a great job of capturing the rainbows.

Boston Foodie Tour

After we got settled into our apartment, I decided I needed to start to get to know the city of Boston, beyond our neighborhood in Cambridge. I figured, what better way to do that than to take a food tour? After consulting Yelp, I decided that the Boston Foodie Tour was my best choice, and I was not disappointed.

I went with the Beacon Hill/Back Bay Tour, because it was advertised as two tours in one (you can’t argue with that!), and because those neighborhoods are just across the river from Cambridge. I was a little hesitant to embark on a five hour food tour, but the guide, Audrey, was amazing, and gave us a nice mix of sampling food, perusing food stores, and filling us in on the history of the area as we walked through Beacon Hill and Back Bay. Before I knew it, the sun was setting and the tour was coming to an end.

I ate so much food on this tour that it’s taken me almost two months to sort through my photos. Here’s a sampling of the places we visited on our tour.

The tour started at the beautiful Liberty Hotel, which used to be the Charles Street Jail. Sorry I don’t have a picture, but trust me the interior was breathtaking.

Our first food “sampling” was at Scampo, which is Lydia Shire’s restaurant, located in the Liberty Hotel. We were first treated to a delicious mozzarella salad……and then we got to watch the chef prepare a lobster pizza for us.

Which was both rich and scrumptious (and worth risking a migraine for, but luckily I was able to eat the lobster without any headaches).

All of the food at Scampo was tasty. Even the bread sticks were good.

After our first “sample” we headed onto Charles Street, where we stopped at Savenor’s Market.

Here we perused the shelves of fresh fruits and vegetables, the local handcrafted foods, and of course, the exotic meats (which we did not sample).

I was happy to see that the rattle snake is free range, because I would hate to see those little fellas forced to live in a factory farm.

Then it was time for some J.P. Licks ice cream. I’m not usually a chocolate person, but I decided to go with the Nutella flavor, because I can’t resist that chocolate-hazelnut deliciousness. Had I known that the next stop was a chocolate shop, I probably would have chosen a different flavor, but it was still delicious.

Next stop: Beacon Hill Chocolates

They were so pretty and so tasty!

We continued on through the Boston Public Gardens and on to my favorite stop of the day: Bacco’s Wine and Cheese shop.

Where we sampled a variety of cheeses and other items that would go on a cheese plate.

I picked up some goodies to take home. Delicious.

Next, we were off to Legal Sea Foods for some chowdah. It was okay. I think I just don’t like clam chowder, so you probably shouldn’t make any decisions based on my feelings about it.

Then it was time to hit Georgetown Cupcakes.

We were feeling pretty stuffed, so we got our cupcakes to go. I have been here MANY times since the food tour. They are that good. For me, frosting is the most important factor in making a cupcake delicious. If you are a frosting lover, you will not be disappointed.

Then it was time for some more savory food. We hit up the Grilled Cheese Nation food truck.

We split a brie and apple sandwich. The sandwich had a clever name, but I don’t remember what it was. The crisp apple with the brie cheese was delicious.

We took a stroll through the Copley Square Farmer’s Market, where the colors were beautiful.

We visited some more specialty shops, sampling flavored salts and sugars at Sabatino and Co….

…and delicious olive oils and vinegars at Boston Olive Oil Company. I have not gone back here yet, but I will as soon as my current bottle of olive oil runs out. Which should be soon ๐Ÿ™‚

The tour ended with tea and dessert at Brasserie Jo.

I had such a great time and ate SO much delicious food on this tour. I cannot wait to go on another one. If anyone comes to visit me in Boston, I will be happy to accompany you on a Boston Foodie Tour. I especially have my eye on the North End Tour, but I’m sure all of the tours are fantastic!

Boston Book Festival

This afternoon I went down to Copley Square to check out the Boston Book Festival. As a lover of books, it seemed like the place to be.

Part of the book festival is the One City One Story program, which is a project to promote literacy among the teens and adults of Boston. This year’s selection was The Lobster Mafia Story by Anna Solomon. I really enjoyed the story, but I didn’t get to the festival early enough to hear the discussion about the story.

I did go to a session called The Brain: Thinking About Thinking. Neuropsychiatrist, Eric Kandel, and quirky author/inventor/futurist, Ray Kurzweil both spoke at this session. I had high hopes, but honestly they were both a little too academic/dry for me. It felt a little bit like a grad school lecture. I’m more likely to read Kandel’s book than Kurzweil’s, but honestly, I probably won’t read either.

The Trinity Church Sanctuary, where the session took place, was absolutely stunning. Here’s a picture of the inside, but it really doesn’t do it justice.

There were several bookstores selling books.

And lots of publishing companies selling books. Of course MIT Press was there :).

And guess who was there, chatting, signing, and giving out free hugs?

Of course, it’s Junot Diaz!

Here’s the line to get a hug from Junot. I passed on that one. Been there, done that.


The Boston Public Library, looking gorgeous, as always.

It was another beautiful day in Boston and a great way to spend a Saturday afternoon.

My awkward embrace with Junot

About a month ago, I walked down to the Stata Center to hear Junot Diaz read from his new book, This is How You Lose Her.

Before I tell you about the reading, here’s the conversation my husband and I had a week earlier:

Husband: So, there’s this author named Junot Diaz coming to MIT for a book reading. It’s open to the public if you want to go hear her read.

Me: Junot Diaz?!? Juno, “This is How You Lose Her”, Diaz? The one everyone is talking about right now?

H: Um, I guess so.

M: Junot is a boy, not a girl, just so you know.

[pause, while I do a little Google search]

M: What? Junot Diaz teaches at MIT? You should take a class with him. What is a Pulitzer Prize winning author doing teaching at MIT?ย Can’t he do better than teaching writing at an engineering school?

H: [uninterested] I don’t know.

[pause]

M: If he teaches at MIT, then he probably lives in Cambridge. We could be eating brunch at Cafe Luna and he could be sitting right next to us.

H: [still uninterested] Uh-huh

M: That would be the best celebrity sighting ever. I’m going to take a picture with him if that ever happens.

H: Um, okay. Or you could just go to the book reading and take a picture with him.

So, back to the reading. Here’s Junot dazzling the audience with his ability to drop f-bombs like nobody’s business. Including when talking about how much he loves his colleagues. And how they’re all going to survive the upcoming zombie apocalypse.

In all seriousness, this guy is smart. And gives an impressive talk.

A couple highlights:

1. In my opinion, as someone who reads a lot of books, some authors are just writers, and some writers are artists. Junot is an artist. Which made his book reading and discussion incredibly engaging and entertaining. I highly recommend seeing him speak if you ever have the chance. Possibly the best book reading I’ve been to.

2. Junot has some interesting thoughts on race in Boston. And by interesting, I mean he said something along the lines of, “Boston is the most racist city I’ve ever lived in.” Some people sitting behind me seemed to disagree. I haven’t lived here long enough to have an opinion. And as a white person, in what appears to be a very white city, I probably won’t have the same experience as Junot.

3. Junot also has some interesting thoughts on MIT’s claimed money woes. He thinks MIT claims to be poor, when they’re really sitting on buckets of money. Enough to feed the entire Dominican Republic, in Junot’s opinion. Based on the price of tuition, he’s probably right.

4. When asked why he teaches at MIT (no, I wasn’t the one to ask that, but I was certainly thinking it), his abbreviated response was: 1) MIT kids are just so nerdy, but cool; 2) MIT makes their students suffer (his word) too much and he likes to help decrease the suffering; and 3) What better place to promote the arts, than at a technical school? You can’t argue with his reasoning.

After the reading, I stood in line for over an hour to get my book signed. Unlike a typical book reading, this guy likes to have a full length conversation with each and every person who comes through the line. Which is great, unless you’re eight people from the end of the line, like I was. So I waited. And waited. And read half of the book while standing in line. And waited some more.

When I get closer to the front of the line, I look up from my book. He appears to be moving people through the line more quickly. And then I notice something. He’s hugging everyone who comes through the line. Why is he doing that? That’s strange. Doesn’t anyone else think that is strange? I’m not a hugger of strangers and I’m not really interested in getting a hug. Or a picture, at this point. I’m tired and it’s way past my bedtime.

It’s my turn. “Hi, I’m Junot.” Um, yeah, I already knew that. I shove my book at him before he can make a move. Small talk, he signs my book, I get my book back. I’m about to turn to leave, when he swoops in for a hug. Awkward. I thank him for the book signing, text my husband to let him know he can finally stop studying in the library, and we walk home.

In case you are interested , here’s the rest of the MIT writing department, riveted by what Junot has to say. Or possibly wondering why they can’t get away with dropping f-bombs left and right in their place of work. (Hint: win a Pulitzer Prize and then you can.)

Since I was too tired to take a lame-o picture that says, “Look, I stood in line for two hours to take my picture with Junot Diaz”, here’s my proof that I was there.

And, since I didn’t take a picture with Junot, I’ll end with a picture of the Stata Center, where the reading took place. And because it’s my favorite building on the MIT campus.

PS – If anyone reads The New Yorker the way that I do (i.e. you skip the 23 page long news/current event articles, glance at the cartoons, and then read every word of the fiction piece), then you’ve probably already read the majority of this book, since most of the stories were previously published in The New Yorker. But, This is How You Lose Her is still worth reading.