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Posts Tagged ‘Boston’

My streets of Boston

I debated — as many hobbyist writers have as well, I presume — on whether or not to write about the past week here in Boston. What value can I add to the barrage of media coverage, personal stories, images, video, op-ed pieces and political posturing that has held us hostage over the past 6 days? But we all have a story to tell, and each one is personal.

I started working in Copley Square back in 1996, before I even graduated from college. By my calculation that puts me at somewhere around 33,000 hours logged in and around the small stretch of Boylston Street between Dartmouth Street and Berkeley Street — not including the extra hours spent working overtime, enjoying meals at local restaurants, and spilling out into the streets after drinks with friends. During that time, I’ve lived in no less than 16 different apartments, from Back Bay to Somerville, from Mission Hill to Allston/Brighton, from Jamaica Plain to Quincy, and finally, in the second half of my 30s, settling for a commuter life here in Walpole.

The attack on the Boston Marathon was undeniably personal. When all else changed, when the rug was pulled out from under my feet (as is wont to happen at various times in your life), I relied on the familiar routine of getting up each morning, putting on my proverbial pants one leg at a time, and heading to Copley Square for work. My doctor and dentist, dry cleaner and long-abandoned gym are there. My farmer’s market, my beloved wine, cheese, and fine foods store — there. My solace — there.

Having gone to work on many a Marathon Monday and being all too familiar with the general annoyance of street closings and throngs of out-of-towners that it will bring, I opted this year to take advantage of my new-found ability to work from home. At 3:10 on Monday afternoon, I was nose-deep in my laptop, sitting next to my husband when he snapped me out of my work trance and pointed at the TV. A bomb had exploded in the heart of Copley Square, just yards away from the finish line of the 117th Boston Marathon. Within minutes, my phone was ringing, text messages were coming in: “Please tell me you were working from home today…”

Being safe in Walpole, I took to the virtual streets of social media, where crowds of onlookers were gathering on Facebook and Twitter feeds. The bombing images looped over and over in the background on the TV. “I’m safe,” I posted. I liked incoming statuses of other local friends also reporting their safety. I cried.

This was personal. One of my closest friends and Copley Square compatriots was working in the Prudential Mall building, whose entrance was not far away from the second blast. The building went on lockdown, and he stayed there, no TV to update him, until 6 o’clock that night. Confusion and chaos were prevalent alongside the heroism that also ensued.

My work building, situated between Arlington and Berkeley Streets, was closed the next day. I worked from home again, unable to concentrate, head reeling with incomprehension. It remains inconceivable to me days later that this happened in my tiny corner of the earth.

On Wednesday, we all returned to the office — but not to normal. I reached out to friends at other buildings in the area and made plans for lunch. A reaffirming meal with friends and a 2-month old baby was what I needed to soothe my soul. We opted for comfort food at Joe’s American Bar & Grill, on the corner of Newbury and Exeter Streets; when we asked for the check at the end of a long lunch, we were told all meals that day were on the house. I was simultaneously filled with unspeakable sadness and inexpressible gratitude.

Thursday came and went in an uneasy holding pattern, and I longed for the media and the throngs of people around my building to go away. I wandered over to the makeshift memorial to the victims 2 doors down from my office and silently paid my respects. I planned a vacation day for Friday, simply to sleep in, process and try to breathe again. It was not to be.

My husband woke me up from a deep if exhausted sleep at 8am on Friday morning. “They knocked over a 7-11 and killed a police officer and one of the guys is dead and they hijacked a car and the T has been shut down and there’s a massive manhunt in Watertown,” he breathlessly informed me.

Watertown. Where my sister works, my cousin lives, coworkers live, the woman who married us lives. Back to Facebook, back to TV, back to calls and texts and Twitter feeds. The city was on lockdown. Photos circulated, and my brain awkwardly repeated Russian names in my head, trying to master their pronunciation, trying to understand something incomprehensible and foreign. A friend from the post-college years struggled with the realization that one of the suspects was a sparring partner who had broken his eye socket a few years earlier. I performed a neurotic circuit of newscasts, Facebook, and the boston.com live blog feed over and over again for hours on end, juggling phone, laptop and TV until my eyes burned and hunger pangs grew in my stomach.

I was afraid. Afraid for those I loved, afraid for my city, afraid for the state of the world, and afraid that normalcy was a thing of the past. And so I watched the news for 14 hours straight yesterday, trying to ignore the curious tightening of the neck, chest and arms that those of us with nervous dispositions are prone to.

Is it reasonable to have experienced such fear?

I don’t know anymore.

As hour 13 drew nigh and the suspect was cornered in a boat a street over from where our family friend and wedding officiant lives, I received second-hand updates from one of my college friends, a Boston police officer on the scene. Our friend was in her car leaving the area as the shots began. The suspect was now bleeding out, I was informed. When it was finally over, the city erupted in exhausted pent-up relief and once again took to the streets, in a display not unlike the triumph of the Red Sox in 2004. We celebrated our officers, our city, and our freedom.

Here’s the important thing, though. My personal experience is in no way unique. We ALL had a cousin down the road, a friend in law enforcement, classmates and colleagues who missed the explosion by five minutes and a twist of fate. This week was made up of threads from the fabric of every part of the Boston experience: the gathering of athletes from across the world to participate in the marathon, including members of our own running community of every age and from every walk of life; the selflessness, skill and dedication of our world-class doctors, surgeons and nurses; businessmen, students, and “townies” alike affected across the various locales where the drama unfolded, from the business district of Copley Square to the venerated Massachusetts Institute of Technology campus, to the working-class Watertown neighborhood; the visit from President Obama, speeches at the interfaith service offering comfort from the president, our mayor, governor, congressmen — and the typical political commentary that followed; the tireless dedication of our law-enforcement professionals, showcasing cooperation across all representative bodies and the citizens themselves; the pride of our professional sports teams and their fans, who honored the victims in the most moving ways, cancelled games so as not to pull resources from the police, and whose logos were repurposed in countless new icons of Boston pride.

The week also memorialized the cross-section of Bostonians affected by this tragedy, heartbreakingly represented by the four victims: our youth — Martin Richard, an 8-year old boy from the uniquely proud Boston neighborhood of Dorchester; our locals — Krystle Campbell, a hard-working 29-year old waitress with a big smile and quick wit from the metropolitan suburb of Arlington; our students and foreign nationals — Lingzi Lu, a 23-year old Chinese national living in Boston to attend graduate school at one of our world-class educational facilities; and our officers — Sean Collier, the 26-year old MIT police officer, killed in the line of duty during the terrible manhunt that ensued.

The fact is, though I may curse Boston every year as we shake off the mantle of yet another tough winter, my heart is inextricably tied to this locale. As someone who is wary of change, it’s been a hard pill for me to swallow that important people may come and go from our lives, our routines change, we age (as do our loved ones), jobs and store fronts come and go…and yet the ever-fluid city stands as my constant. I moved to Boston a full 20 years ago this September, and it’s been my solace in times of need; its streets have welcomed me, calmed me, protected me, throughout the ups and downs of my life since I showed up here as a fresh-faced 18-year old student. It’s taught me of an unwavering loyalty and faith that manifests itself in the absurdly tenacious 87-year belief that next year is the year. I could not be prouder to report that our faith HAS been rewarded, and my city continues to stand strong. In its darkest hour, my city still comforts me, still makes my heart sing, and yes, still protects me. This is the resilience of Boston.

This morning, after my husband left the house, I picked up the remote and turned off the barrage. For the first time in a week, my house is silent. The couch where I camped out all day yesterday on high-alert holds me again, but this time in quiet repose. A peace has descended. And in this silence, I can hear myself think for the first time. My heart swells, my eyes fill with tears, and I’m filled with love for my town. We have prevailed.

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This past Saturday, I had the pleasure of heading down to the first annual Boston Local Food Festival on the wharf in Fort Point. Now, before I go any further, let me stop right there and take one of my patented asides to address the question half of you are wondering:  Huh? What’s a Fort Point? Where’s Fort Point? I’ve lived in Boston for <<insert number of years here>> and I’ve never heard of it.

For the uninitiated, Fort Point is simply a specific section of South Boston, aka “Southie.” Southie should not be confused with the South End and certainly never confused with the South Shore. (Not that there’s anything wrong with the South Shore. I live there. But it sure ain’t Southie.) Fort Point’s also conveniently across the bridge from South Station. Got it, Southpaw?

For some time now, Fort Point has been hyped as the next “up and coming” area of Boston, and has become a trendy spot for artists, loft dwellers, and foodies, thanks in no small part to the efforts of local superstar chef Barbara Lynch. (More on her another day. Suffice it to say “GODDESS”). Fort Point’s most recognizable resident, however, is the giant Hood milk bottle that stands watch over the Boston Children’s Museum. Check out the Friends of Fort Point Channel website for more info on the neighborhood.
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Now that we’ve cleared that up, let’s move on to the festival. If, like most folks, you judge the success of a festival by the number of attendees, then all I can say is that this was a resounding success. It was CROWDED! Yup, the local food movement has Boston all wrapped up in a tizzy. A tasty tizzy, inspiring an event that was pure Boston, through and through. In a move that brought a smile to my face, they even trotted out Mayor Mumbles (as we affectionately call him) for some grammatically incorrect opening remarks.
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The festival had a little bit of everything, from food to demos to games:

  • free food samples
  • butchering demonstrations
  • food vendors and trucks
  • non-profit orgs and charity crop sharing
  • slow food twister
  • cider pressing & butter making*
  • chicken coops & container gardens
  • a competitive seafood cooking throwdown
  • live music
  • beer tasting

*The butter making was super cool — maybe because I tend to enjoy kids activities more than most kids (or certainly more than an adult ought to). Basically, you take whole cream, put it in a Mason jar, shake it for about 20-25 minutes, and it separates into butter and buttermilk. Seriously, isn’t that COOL????

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In no particular order, some of the things I especially enjoyed were:

Pickles from Grillo’s. Seriously? I couldn’t get a picture of the pickles without someone’s hand in it because there were that many people jockeying about for a taste.
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Pig butchering demo by Chef Matt Jennings. Folks were NOT sticking their hands in THAT photo, but I still couldn’t get close enough for any gory pig photos. You’re crushed, I know. What I didn’t realize at the time was that Matt is the chef at Farmstead down in Providence, which has been on my “To Eat” list for far too long! Marcy, it’s time for another food trip to R.I.
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Fish cooking demo by the Gloucester Fishermen’s Wives Association. You all know how to say “Gloucester,” right? Yeah, it’s “Glosstah”. Angela Sanfilippo (at left) was just fabulous to listen to. Very engaging. I loved hearing her stories of how the organization got started and her own involvement in helping to protect the local fishing industry here in Massachusetts.
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Bobby O’s pita chips. Pretty self explanatory, really. They tasted fantastic, so I snapped a photo in lieu of a business card (it was a “Zero Waste” event, after all!). Go buy some.
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Alternate grains from Four Star Farms. WARNING! About to expose myself as a super ultra geek. I had to buy a bag of the triticale flour because (gulp) in the Star Trek “Trouble with Tribbles” episode, the Tribbles were gorging themselves on the ship’s supply of quadrotriticale. I like that episode. Moving right along now…
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Olive Berries! Never seen/heard of them before. Chef Didi Emmons brought them out during the seafood throwdown and let us give them a try. Tart! (The berries, not Didi). Aren’t they beautiful?
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Didi’s apron. Lovely, eh? Check out the embroidered pocket… It’s a teacup. Sweet!
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THE FOOD. Rightfully, the star of the show.
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We ended up eating the pork and heirloom tomato sandwich from Sportello for lunch, but unfortunately in my haste to consume, I forgot to take a photo of the sandwich itself! Ah well, you can take a look at the preparation, instead.
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All in all, the Boston Local Food Festival was THE hip place to be on Saturday. A complete list of vendors is on the Food Festival site — help support local food!
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My one regret? Supposedly David Coffin (of Christmas Revels fame) was doing a roving performance of sea shanties and the like, and we missed him. We thought we heard him off in the distance at one point, and tried to steer our ship his way. The throngs of people proved too strong for our tired vessel, so we turned alee, never to find out if he in fact wears something other than tights outside of the Christmas season. Perhaps it’s just as well. I like the idea of Mr. Coffin being perpetually in tights. But that’s another story.

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Have I mentioned that I love Italian food before? Yes? I have? Well, no surprise there. What is somewhat surprising is the fact that I’ve now been living in Boston for 17 years, and had never been to a single Italian festival in the historic North End. Until recently. (This is going somewhere good, can’t you tell?)

I’ll tell you all about the festival in just a moment, but I’m too excited about the feature part to wait… What’s important to know is that my recent visit to the North End planted a seed in my li’l noggin. I came home after the festival and nestled into my corner of the couch with a couple of my favorite Italian cookbooks. I’m fairly confident in my cooking when it comes to Italian food, making it a ripe area for me to focus on to take my cooking skills to the next level. Hmmm, I thought to myself, what if I were to cook nothing but Italian food for a solid month? Nate wouldn’t mind eating it. It would be good for my skills. I most certainly wouldn’t mind eating it…

On further thought, however, I realized that a). I have way more than a month’s worth of posts to dedicate to Italian food, b). this might not be the most diet-friendly decision to make, and c). um. It’s already halfway through the month. How did that happen? Where did September go? Instead, I decided to introduce an ongoing sub-series of Italian posts, scattered throughout my other blog posts, all to be filed under the umbrella of…. (drumroll, please):

Each post belonging to the series will be introduced with The Spaghetti Capers logo above, letting this investigation of Italian cooking continue on indefinitely. I hope you’ll join me for the adventure! First post to follow shortly.

Now back to the festival. Sunday, August 29th, we headed down to the North End for the final day of the three day Saint Anthony’s Feast. According to their website, the feast is the largest Italian religious festival in New England, and is now in its 91st year. The highlight of the feast is the ten hour procession of the statue of St. Anthony throughout the streets of the North End. Donations are pinned to St. Anthony–often by people leaning out of their second floor apartment windows–babies are kissed… It’s truly a spectacle.
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The secondary highlight of the feast is, of course, the food. (Bless the Italians. Really.)
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All the classics were covered: spicy Italian sausages… (this photo’s for you, Dad!)
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pizzelles…
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Cannolis, filled to order…
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and plenty of tomatoes and basil.
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Myself, I was excited to try the zeppoli, which are basically a cross between a donut and fried dough. I’d read about them in some of my cookbooks, but never eaten any, and was not disappointed by the taste.
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This one kinda looks like a turtle, don’t you think?
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Oops, not anymore!
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They were sweet and hot and filling, so all I had room for next was a small calamari, olive, and celery salad — delicious!
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It was a brilliantly sunny day, and therefore hot, so after settling down on a curb to eat our snacks, we decided it was time to head home…after one last stop at Salumeria Italiana for some of that amazing prosciutto I originally discovered for my sister’s elopement, and a couple of snacks from Lyndell’s Bakery. More on the ensuing spaghetti capers from that detour at a later date, though (hint, hint)…

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