Sandwich from The Biscuit, by way of Zing!

I understand that it isn’t yet eleven o’clock in the morning as I write this, but that doesn’t change the fact that I am already halfway through my lunch.

On most weekday mornings, I get started with a cappuccino or a latte from Zing! in Porter Square Books; this morning the sandwiches looked so amazingly tempting, plump triangles wrapped in shiny cellophane. Generally speaking I pack my lunch and tote it into work, but this happens to be one of the few days where I found myself commuting with only a banana and an apple to hold me over until dinner. I had planned on perhaps getting some sort of soba from the Asian food court inside Porter Exchange when, as I ordered my coffee, I realized that my stomach was already rumbling. So I did what I always do, and that is give in.

I selected the Veggie Goat’s Gruff: herbed goat cheese, roasted zucchini sliced incredibly thin, roasted red peppers, caramelized onions and greens on whole wheat. Goodness, it was delicious. The onions actually weren’t quite caramelized, but I didn’t mind because they gave a satisfying crunch to the sandwich. One of the ingredients, and it drives me crazy that I can’t quite put my finger on exactly which, added a surprising pickle-y tang that I absolutely loved.

Apparently the Veggie Goat’s Gruff and the other sandwiches available at Zing! come from The Biscuit on Washington Street in Somerville. While it’s not nearly as easy for me to pop by there on my way to work, it’s heartening to know that now I’ve got two more places to drop into when I’ve got a hankering for a sandwich.

Zing! at Porter Square Books
Porter Square Shopping Center
25 White Street
Cambridge, Massachusetts 02140

I May Have OFFICIALLY Lost My Mind.

Before there was a small chance of it, but now I think that it is certain.  I spent the majority of today writing and putting the finishing touches on my pages for the Manuscript Mart aspect of The Muse and The Marketplace; I’ve just now come from Keith’s study, where I giggled a lot and possibly said something like, “I think it’s done and I think it might even be good, or parts of it might be good, and now I think we have to do something like jump up and down and dance around.” After we did that, I then twisted up my fingers and possibly said something like, “Actually, it might not be good, and it might really just be poorly written and adolescent and amateurish, and now I think I need something like a proper hug.”  Then I promptly burst into tears.   That part I am sure of.

Keith, sadly, is quite used to these sorts of outbursts from me.  During the entire month that I’ve been preparing my pages, he’s had to deal with me frantically rushing into the study and blurting out with statements such as, “I need to to say something and I need you not to talk, because I think that this is the stupidest thing I have ever, ever done and I can’t believe you didn’t try and talk me out of it.”  Sometimes I would even barge in to throw myself onto the sofa and yell at the ceiling about the pros and cons of first-person narrative versus third-person omniscient before leaping up and storming out again.  Not only did Keith have to endure that, but also my distracted, sub-par cooking.

So.  I have learned from this the following:  writing is still fun.  Seriously.  I may have come close to driving my husband permanently into his study, and I have most assuredly lost any shred of sanity I may have had left.  But I think it may have been worth it.

Breakfast at Panificio.

img_2232.jpgDuring college, I lived on Beacon Hill and I must say, the historic and romantic cobble-stoned streets are most likely amongst my favorite in the city. Truly, I love the terra cotta colored buildings — I think they’re sandstone? — and though I can never wear anything aside from flats on the uneven brick sidewalks, I’m fond of them too.

Charles Street’s Panificio is an absolutely lovely spot to drop in for an early-morning muffin. The light comes in through the huge floor-to-ceiling windows, whose wide expanse of glass is only broken by the long dark wooden counter… which is where I sat on a cold, sunny morning to have an omelet and a cup of coffee.

I always need several minutes to decide what I’d like to order, in spite of the fact that I invariably go with the very first item that catches my eye. In this case, I spent the time debating the pros and cons of the classic breakfast sandwich (nice and salty versus potentially greasy) before finally choosing the spinach, tomato and feta omelet. I love omelets — mostly because I make horrible omelets — so I was amazingly happy with Panificio’s perfectly fluffy plate. The feta added just the right amount of tangy saltiness to the springy, fresh flavors of the spinach and tomato. You know what though? None of that matters. Don’t go to Panificio for the omelets, or for their crumbly and buttery croissants. Go for the old-world feel, the ambiance. Go and sit at the long counter, while away an hour people-watching and snap open the crinkly pages of a newspaper. Panificio is that sort of place.

144 Charles Street
Boston, Massachusetts 02114

Panificio on Urbanspoon

Medz Mama’s Cookies, aka Armenian Butter Cookies.

Was it really so long ago that I went to Eastern Lamejun and bought some mahleb, with the intention of baking cookies? Honestly, where has the month gone? Oh, right — I remember now.

Regardless, with Easter around the corner (where has the month gone?!) I have shifted gears into a sort of terrifying overdrive — we’re expecting fourteen people over Sunday, and rumor has it they all expect to be fed. I’ve been trying to stay organized by preparing as much as I can ahead of time, and that includes desserts. Hopefully, a mostly-cookie spread will help me keep a firm grip on my sanity, even as shelf space in both my fridge and freezer dwindles. Thus far I’ve gotten two different types out of the way, as well as the mahleb cookies I’ve been wanting to bake for a while.

These cookies are traditionally made around this time of year but, in all honesty, seasonality has nothing to do with my desire to make them. After all, do I need a holiday simply to make a batch of cookies that are lusciously buttery and nutty, that are fun and easy to make, and that remind me of my grandmother?

I grew up eating these cookies, the recipe for which my mom cajoled out of my father’s mother. To this day, we still call them Medz Mama’s cookies; in Armenian, medz means big. To a child, that sort of logic makes perfect sense, no? Not that you have to be a child to enjoy this delicious little treat.

Medz Mama’s Cookies

img_2203.jpg2 sticks butter, melted
4 cups flour
½ cup sugar (add up to 3/4 cup if you prefer sweeter cookies)
1 cup milk
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoons nigella seeds (caraway seeds are acceptable)
½ teaspoon mahleb
1/4 cup Mazola oil (I used olive oil)
1 egg, beaten
sesame seeds

img_2213.jpg1. Preheat oven to 325°. Mix the first eight ingredients (up until the egg) until they are all totally incorporated. The resulting dough will be somewhat on the oily side; if you find it too oily add a little bit more flour.

img_2214.jpg2. Pinch off about one tablespoon’s worth of dough. On a clean surface, roll dough into a wreath, a twist or any other shape and set on baking tray. Repeat with remaining dough. Though the cookies will not expand much during baking, try to keep them about two inches apart. Brush with cookie tops generously with beaten egg and sprinkle with sesame seeds.img_2230.jpg

3. Bake for approximately thirty minutes or until the cookies turn a nice deep golden color. Let cool, then store in an airtight container. I’m not quite sure how long the cookies keep for, because they don’t last long around me.

Dinner at Boston Public.

I have mixed feelings about Boston’s Restaurant Week. Granted, there’s no denying that the twelve days provide a great opportunity for diners to try some of the area’s restaurants, especially with their more wallet-friendly prix fixe menus — $33.08 for a three-course dinner and $22.08 for a three-course lunch. With restaurants like Gaslight, T.W. Food, B&G Oysters and Great Bay taking part, it’s no wonder that reservations can be tricky to come by.

At the same time, are Restaurant Week reservations worth it? After all, what you will be eating will by no means be an accurate representation of an establishment’s food. The menu is oftentimes so pared down as to only offer two options of entrées and three of each appetizer and dessert. If you’re hoping to try a restaurant’s signature dish, chances are you’ll be out of luck. If the limited menu choices aren’t enough to dissuade you, consider this: service. A crowded, boisterous dining room with too few frazzled waitstaff is fun for exactly no one.

This past Thursday night Keith and I were invited to dinner — a Restaurant Week dinner — at Boston Public in Louis Boston by some friends. In spite of my opinion on the matter, we said yes, as a long time had passed without seeing Lexi, Terence, Kyle and JD. I was running a little behind schedule because of delays on the red line, which stressed me out because I have this paranoia that I’m always late (this may or may not be true). In spite of my unpunctuality flustering me, it didn’t prevent me from noticing a few things.

First of all, the menu was on the strange side — Keith had located an online copy prior to dinner, and we had all dissected it. The menu we received when we sat down was a bit different, happily. Earlier in the day, we had been quite indignant about the number of supplemental fees so it was gratifying to see that the fourteen-ounce sirloin ($17 supplemental charge) and the Angus filet ($15 supplemental charge) were omitted. However, we saw there was a new appetizer: Buffalo mozzarella with tomatoes, for an additional five dollars.

Now, that was frustrating (an extra five dollars for mozzarella?!) but it didn’t compare with our affecting, artificial waiter. When we were making our wine selections, he spoke to our group as though we knew nothing about wine. The menu offered two choices in wine flights, one for $20.08 and another for $30.08; both JD and Lexi expressed interest in the first, but here the waiter did something that I especially did not appreciate. He gave truly one of the hardest sells I’ve seen on the pricier wine flight, and I’m sad to say my friends went for it.


In spite of all that, I was pleased with my appetizer of crab wontons, which also came with a fantastic chartreuse green dipping sauce. I sampled the sauce first — tangy and familiar, something about it kept my fork moving from mouth to dish until it was all but gone. I tried dragging a wonton through the sauce but honestly, they were both at their best alone. The wonton was crisp, crunchy and deliciously crabby, without even the slightest hint of oiliness.

(When I asked the server about the green sauce, he said, “It’s sort of like an herb mayo.” To which I replied, “Oh? What herbs?” His response was, “Whatever’s available.”)

The rest of the party didn’t fare so well with their starters. Keith and Terence ordered the chicken spring roll, which Keith found incredibly lackluster; Kyle thought his shortrib potstickers, which JD and Lexi had both also selected, were overly greasy. Presentation-wise, the potstickers arrived in an overlarge bowl, with the crescent-shaped dumplings barely covering its bottom.

I had been torn as to what to select for my entrée. After all, Boston Public fancies itself a steakhouse (an Asian steakhouse, I should say) but the menu we received only had one beef entrée: skirt steak, a notoriously cheap and tough cut. Now, I have nothing against cheap cuts; after all, a skirt steak is at its most flavorful when braised. This skirt steak, however, was to be grilled and served with a red wine sauce. Already hesitant, I asked our server his opinion.

“I kind of hate salmon,” he said. When he saw my expression at this, he quickly added, “But other people really seem to like it.”

salmon.jpgWhile it was the worst endorsement I’ve heard, Kyle and I both decided to risk the salmon — probably the best I’ve taken. Even though I’ve never liked dried Umeboshi plums (though I liked the misspelling of plum on the menu) the combination of the sauce and the palm sugar glaze gave the fish a very nice subtle sweetness. The flavors also complimented the sautéed bok choy layered underneath the salmon, leaving me extremely happy with my choice.

Again, the other members of my group weren’t as pleased with their selections. All had gone with the skirt steak, which arrived on ridiculously small plates barely the size of the steaks themselves. The red wine sauce gave the appearance of a bloody, bloody wreck of a steak; the melting pat of butter placed atop the meat didn’t do anything at all of change that. I stole a piece from Keith’s plate — it was as rubbery as squid, and not nearly as fun to eat. Also, it left me wondering exactly where the Asian influence lay. The steak had been prepared in the most basic fashion with essentially a red wine jus; I may not be an expert in the kitchen, but I had been under the impression that a jus is French.

To add even more indignity, the others’ entrées were literally just meat. Luckily Keith and I had decided to spilt a side dish, and ordered the potato purée. Almost all of us ended up scraping some of it onto our plates.


For dessert, I was the only one to deviate from choosing the blueberry shortcake, opting instead for the vanilla panna cotta with raspberry sauce. It was genuinely a forgettable dish. In this case and this case alone, Keith’s selection surpassed mine with ease. The shortcake would have been a nice, simple dish, but the addition of lemon took it beyond basic and into something much more interesting.

At the end of dinner, I think I was the only one to not have any complaints about the food. I was sad that the same couldn’t be said of my fellow diners, but I was pleased nevertheless. Until… the bill arrived. The restaurant had added a 21% gratuity to our check. It was an absolutely perfect farce. I am all for rewarding excellent service, but I also am for the right to decide whether or not such service was received. In this case, it was most certainly not; an 18% tip would have been undeserved.

While we were reaching grudgingly for our wallets, I noticed a patron across the room pouring her martini out of its signature glass and into a lowball. Odd, I thought, but considered that maybe she didn’t like martini glasses. I’ve been known to knock over a few with a clumsy elbow, so I could understand if perhaps she preferred something a bit more stable. Outside, Keith told us how the table next to us had ordered cocktails; after a delay, the hostess had informed them that the bar was out of martini glasses, and asked if they would object to their drinks being served in white wine glasses. It made me wonder, had someone asked the woman in the other room for her glass back? Before I could think about this some more, Keith and Kyle said that they had walked past several customers unhappily arguing with their servers.

Is it cheering to know that we weren’t the only ones displeased with our evening? Of course not. No one likes to receive a bill for almost four hundred dollars after a highly uneven and mostly disappointing meal. At the same time, it was comforting to learn that we were not alone.

Boston Public
234 Berkeley Street
Boston, Massachusetts 02116

Boston Public on Urbanspoon

The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold.

(Yes, this is another reread, but what can I say?)

the-lovely-bones.jpgWhen The Lovely Bones came out in 2002, I was amongst the many who couldn’t put it down until the last line was read. And then… I didn’t touch it again until Keith and I were about to move to our new house; I packed it into a box, along with other items I then gave away. A few months ago, however, Keith came home with a battered copy, and I couldn’t help myself. Just as when I read it almost six years ago, I finished it over the course of something like two days. But did the novel still hold up?

Surprisingly, I think yes, but only with a grain of salt.

I’m not giving anything away with the following synopsis: The Lovely Bones is the story of fourteen-year-old Pennsylvanian Susie Salmon, who, in the winter of 1973, is raped and murdered by a neighbor. Afterwards, he literally breaks down her body into parts for disposal, while Susie’s understandably-traumatized soul shoots up to heaven. From that vantage point, Susie watches her family and schoolmates cope with her sudden and violent death — the evidence of which relies mainly upon a pompom-ed winter hat and the only found remains, an elbow.

Consider me disgusting for feeling this way, but including this incredibly evocative detail is brilliance on Sebold’s part. However, profoundly resonant details do not a novel make. Luckily, Sebold also has the narrative to rely upon; by killing Susie, she does something quite incredible: she gives us a protagonist who tells her story in both the first- and third-person omniscient.

While I remain to this day thoroughly impressed with the concept, I can’t help but wonder: is this gimmicky? Keith, of course, put it best when he said to me, “If it is a mechanism that is driving the story — instead of the story driving the mechanism — then it is a gimmick.”

So. Would the story hold up without Susie narrating from The Great Beyond, without her new-found insight regarding her family’s ongoing lives? I can’t help but think that it would not, though I do firmly believe that Sebold’s narrative choice is a gimmick of the most elegant design. Think about it: an audience attends a magic show knowing it is going to be mystified and bamboozled, after all.

Regardless of all that — and disregarding the novel’s crescendo failing to ring nearly as clearly as I’d like — the fact remains that there is undeniable strength in Sebold’s writing. The below excerpt got me the both times I read The Lovely Bones, and again when I impatiently flipped through its pages to type it here. In it, Susie describes the family dog, who has suddenly appeared in heaven, meaning of course, that he has died.

…I saw him: Holiday, racing past a fluffy white Samoyed. He had lived to a ripe old age on Earth and slept at my father’s feet after my mother had left, never wanting to let him out of his sight. He had stood with Buckley while he built his fort and had been the only one permitted on the porch while Lindsey and Samuel kissed. And in the past few years of his life, every Sunday morning, Grandma Lynn had made him a skillet-sized peanut butter pancake, which she would place flat on the floor, never tiring of watching him try to pick it up with his snout.

I waited for him to sniff me out, anxious to know if here, on the other side, I would still be the little girl he had slept beside. I did not have to wait long: he was so happy to see me, he knocked me down.

I should mention that, without fail, I get embarrassingly teary-eyed whenever a dog dies, even if I know that it is fiction. I’m a sucker that way. Still, the writing remains true. In this portion, at the very least.

Quickly, on Top Chef.

top-chef.jpg I am a huge fan of Top Chef. I TiVo it, I save episodes and make my own mini-marathons, I watch reruns. I also grasp at my sofa’s pillows in the most apprehensive fashion during each and every Quickfire, because the challenge never fails to stress me out. Of course, I’m aware that I’m not on the show, but regardless — just try and tell me the notion of using ten dollars’ worth of vending machine “produce” to create an amuse bouche in twenty minutes is not taxing. The sentence alone puts me on edge.

That all said, I wanted to make one thing clear: I won’t be writing about Top Chef. For one thing, so many others already do. So please, I urge you to read their blogs. They’re funny and observant.

Enjoy the show!

Sandwich from Bloc 11.

img_2182.jpg I’ve lost track of the many times I’ve remarked upon my love for certain foodstuffs. Most recently, there was mention of peach Lambic and the Kir Royale. Prior to that, it was choreg. Prior to that it was, what, cookies? Cupcakes? Crêpes? Corn fritters? This is precisely what I mean. While there are far too many items to tick off, that is in no way going to stop me from adding another to the list: sandwiches.

Oh, how I love them. I love that the bread serves as both packaging and major ingredient; I love the collection of flavors and textures and colors jam-packed into each bite; I love that they can be eaten in my most favorite fashion — messily, and with my hands.

I spent most of Sunday morning drinking lattes at Union Square’s Bloc 11; given the intensity of my feelings for sandwiches, I wasn’t able to resist the long list of options for very long. To slim down the lineup, and for that reason alone, I decided to limit myself to ordering exclusively from the cold sandwich section of the menu. Still, I was overwhelmed. There was, to indulge in, the Terrace: rosemary focaccia laden with roasted red pepper hummus, Gruyère, tomato, sprouts, greens and cucumber. Also beckoning me from behind the counter was the Fuse: apple curried tuna with tomato, cucumber, greens and onion atop sourdough.

At last, I settled on the Station 11, though in this case “settle” is a horribly inaccurate word. By choosing the Station 11, I wasn’t settling at all. The combination of flavors — bitter greens, salty and buttery prosciutto, bright tomato, soft and comforting herby ricotta, crusty ciabatta and a veritable pile of sweet caramelized onions — was exceedingly delicious. I will say that, at first, I wished for more ricotta but as I ate I realized that the cheese melded so thoroughly into the rest of the ingredients, adding a subtle creaminess to the sandwich.

The perfect size, the Station 11 left me completely satisfied. In terms of fullness, that is. I easily could have consumed another sandwich, if only to further savor the taste.

Bloc 11
11 Bow Street
Somerville, Massachusetts 02143

Bloc 11 Cafe on Urbanspoon