Miscellaneous Thoughts from the Morning Commute.

It was very crowded on the subway this morning, but still I noticed the man seated in front of me reading The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion. He was more than halfway through, and because he had stomped on my feet several times not more than a moment before, practically crushing them to the bone, I wanted to lean over and ask him, “Have you gotten to the part where she gets leukemia yet?” or some terrible-sounding lie to make it appear as though I was wrecking the end. Of course, I didn’t say anything at all, spiteful or otherwise. I kept my horrible little thoughts to myself.

The woman standing next to me was amazingly engrossed in her book; when I glanced over, my eyes latched onto the words “throbbing,” “swelled” and “kiss,” so naturally my thoughts started wandering in a certain direction. It made me extremely curious as to the title or at least the author, so much so that I tried using our reflections in the glass in front of us to get a better look at the cover. Instead I got distracted by how very tired I looked. In my defense, those dim tunnels combined with the subway’s overhead lighting and smudged windows do not paint the most flattering portrait.

Later, on another line, I noticed that no one else seemed to be reading, with the exception of a blonde woman flipping through a J.Crew catalog. I don’t think that quite counts. When I observe things like this on the subway, I always wonder, “What are these people thinking?” and “Where are these people going?” Ultimately, I ask myself, “Why aren’t they reading?”

Clearly, I realize that not all people are devourers of books, or even nibblers of books. Still — I get most, if not practically all, of my reading done on public transit. On some days, such as today, I even carry two books in my bag, just in case I finish one earlier than anticipated. (For the record, they are D.V. by Diana Vreeland, loaned to me by my friend Alyssa, and Small Wonder by Barbara Kingsolver, snatched off my bookshelves this morning at the very last minute. And I did finish D.V.) In my case, reading makes what could be a long, noisy and tedious ride home interesting, exciting and even too short. Sometimes, I recklessly walk and read, which might be why I trip so frequently; on more than one occasion, I’ve been tempted to stay on the train a few stops longer than needed. No catalog could even come close to claiming to be such a pageturner.

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Food Diary, Day Six.

9.30 – 10.45 am: Sumo skim latte with a shot of sugar-free vanilla syrup from Zing! in Porter Square Books. The other day, I explained to Melissa that normally I prefer coffee-flavored coffee, but if I want a flavor I generally favor hazelnut. Only at Zing! do I get vanilla, and only at 1369 Coffeehouse do I get almond. Otherwise, it’s a regular coffee with cream and a couple of Equals thrown in.

11.37 am: One of four chocolate cherry chip cookies that I toted into work from the batch I made yesterday.

11.53 am: Chocolate cherry chip number two. Sick or no, these cookies are good.

1.50 pm: I am trying to hold out, believe it or not, but I can’t resist the third cookie. And I wonder why I have no appetite for lunch.

3.37 – 3.53 pm: Oven Roasted Vegetable sandwich (from Hot Off the Press in Central Square) which consists of a whole-wheat wrap loaded with spinach, goat cheese, herb mayonnaise and miscellaneous vegetables that have been (you guessed it) roasted in the oven. It’s flavorful, though the packaging was leaking by the time I got back to my office. Luckily, I had the foresight earlier not to stuff my lunch into my lovely leather bag before getting on the subway, because then I would be in a very bad mood indeed. Instead I’m happily full (though sore-throated), with a still-lovely bag.

4.40 pm: An under-ripe banana, which is actually how I like them. I want something that has a bit of bite to it, literally, not a mushy mess in my mouth.

5.48 pm: Chocolate cherry chip number four, not to be confused with “Strawberry Letter 23.”

10.30 pm: Diet Coke while preparing dinner. I love slicing herbs — the smell, the sound… it’s very satisfying, like ripping cloth. Right now I’m working with the greenest, freshest parsley of all time.

11.01 – 11.42 pm: Chicken with garlic and cumin, corn with paprika butter and one last cookie. I don’t recall where I got this recipe; according to Google, it may be from Woman’s Day, which is not one of my regular reads. Regardless of who printed it first, it’s tasty — which is all that matters.

Chicken with Garlic and Cumin
Makes four portions.

1 pound chicken breast, cleaned of fat
½ teaspoons each salt and pepper
2 tablespoons butter
16 large cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 cup finely chopped parsley
1 lemon

  1. Season chicken with salt and pepper. Heat butter in a large, heavy nonstick skillet until bubbly. Add thighs and brown on one side, about five minutes. Turn, add garlic, cover and cook over medium-low heat twenty to twenty-three minutes, turning throughout until browned evenly on both sides.
  2. Sprinkle chicken with cumin; increase heat to medium-high and cook uncovered three-five minutes, turning once, until drippings and chicken are crisp. Remove chicken to serving plates, and spoon on garlic and drippings. Sprinkle with chopped parsley and serve with lemon wedges.

Food Diary, Day Five.

7.39 am: Tylenol and a small glass of orange juice, which I don’t even finish. My throat is killing me. I think it must be coated in shards of glass, like the tops of the brick walls surrounding my grandparents’ neighborhood in Manila.

9.11 – 9.39 am: Small bowl of spaghetti with sun-dried tomatoes, mozzarella, basil and oregano. The pasta feels so good sliding down my throat.

2.23 – 2.45 pm: Bowl of Red Berries with a lot less milk than usual, so the berries can scratch scratch scratch my throat.

3.27 pm: Mug of warm milk, with honey.

4.03 pm: What might possibly be the world’s most perfect grapefruit. Tart and sweet and juicy, it’s just the thing on a sunny day like this.

7.50 pm: I’ve spent the day home sick, and though I offered to cook dinner, Keith quickly exercised his veto power and said that we should just order a pizza. While I appreciate it, I’m not an invalid — when I get sick I either get irritated, and then become productive, or I get tired, and sleep. Today was a melding of the two: irritated (two loads laundry, plus baking cookies) and (spending the late morning and early afternoon asleep, and most likely drooling, on the sofa).

9.30 – 9.49 pm: Two slices of cheese pizza, three breadsticks and two Tylenols.

Food Diary, Day Four.

1.44 am: Piece of choreg from one of the three loaves I spend most of yesterday baking. I did not by any means plan my day properly, which is why I began a eight hour project at five o’clockish in the evening on Sunday.

7.33 am: Special K Red Berries with organic skim milk — though what I really would like is about four more hours of sleep — as well as a small glass of orange juice to wash down two Tylenols. I’ve lost track of how long I’ve been beleaguered by this headache. Yesterday, Melissa told me she rarely gets them; I wanted to grab her by her coat lapels and shake her.

10.52 am: Mini York Peppermint Patty from the office candy tray.

12.20 pm: Banana. I’ve got a pretty intense sore throat, and though I am hungry, the idea of actually eating something is sickening to me right now. What I really want are some croutons or some toast, so they can scratch my throat on the way down.

1.32 – 1. 51 pm: Leftovers from Friday night, which taste as good three days later as they did the first time out of the pan.

5.12 pm: Another piece of choreg, before passing out on the sofa. I swear, sometimes I feel like an old woman. Which, I suppose, is inevitable.

8.51 pm: Another small glass of orange juice. Why am I craving orange juice so much lately? It seems to be the only thing capable of quenching my insane thirst.

10.51 – 11.15 pm: Really quick and simple dinner — lamb chops with garlic and rosemary that I seared before sticking under the broiler, and steamed broccoli with breadcrumbs toasted with pepper, lemon juice and butter. Keith gets kind of disturbed by me when I suck on my lamb chops’ bones, but I can’t help it. It’s concentrated flavor!

Lunch at the Clam Box.

I’m not from Massachusetts originally, so the veritable local obsession with fried clams is a little bit beyond me. Of course, I appreciate the allure of all things fried — have I already mentioned my absolute love of salty French fries dredged in mayonnaise? It wasn’t until Keith, a Reading boy, took me to Gloucester years and years ago to have my first meal at a fish shack that I began to understand precisely why New Englanders wax poetic about something as simple as fried fish.

But how simple is a fried fish? It’s almost as easy to find an awful one as it is the delicious, but that small truth doesn’t change the fact that a perfectly fried golden scallop is a wonderful thing: crunchy on the outside, soft and white on the inside, with the slightest bit of saltiness from the sea. I could eat a pile of such scallops both easily and happily.

Keith has been wanting to go to Ipswich’s Clam Box for weeks now, eager to have his first clams of the year. Finally, this past Sunday, we made the drive north to Essex County with our friend Melissa. My favorite part of the Clam Box actually isn’t the food, which is very good, but rather the outside; the Clam Box was designed to look like exactly that — a take-out box of clams. Though the food now comes in ubiquitous red and white checkered paper trays, I still love structure’s tapered base, and how it flares out, into the petals of a tall box. Just imagine the sheer quantity of clams needed to fill the building!

The three of us shared a ridiculous amount of food — two large boxes of clam strips ($12.75 each), a mini-meal of oysters and onion rings ($9.25), and a large box of French fries ($4.25) — all of which were delightfully fried. The oysters were a bit disappointing, with their soft underbellies, but the clams were perfect: crunch and chewy, all at once.

Ipswich may not be the most convenient of places, if you’re hankering to satisfy the craving for some clams, but it’s more than worth the trip up from the city. It’s a nice drive, and an extremely relaxing way to spend a lazy Sunday afternoon. Keith has already mentioned making a few more trips up the the Clam Box before the summer hits, in order to avoid the crowds. In the high season, the line can wrap around the building and down the street, and the only way to bypass it is to call ahead. Or to have your clams in the early spring.

The Clam Box
246 High Street
Ipswich, Massachusetts 01938
978.356.9707
ipswichma.com/clambox

Food Diary, Day Three.

11.09 am: Feta, sliced grape tomatoes, oregano and olive oil with bread, only because I clumsily knocked my Red Berries all over the floor, and now I am too irritated with myself to pour another bowl. I wish I could say that my spilling things is uncommon, but truthfully — I am a klutz.

3.10 – 3.59 pm: Lunch at the Clam Box in Ipswich with Keith and Melissa. Shared two large boxes of fried clam strips, a mini-meal of fried oysters, one large boxes of fries, small side of onion rings and a medium Diet Coke. Not the healthiest of lunches, but who can resist the first fried clam (strip) of the year? I also don’t feel so terribly about it, since I ate only until I felt full, as opposed to just plowing through a box and a half of clams. Not that I’ve ever done that before…

8.26 pm: Glass of orange juice and a grapefruit. What is this, breakfast?

9.01 pm: These are the times when I wish I had a personal chef, or at least a genie in a bottle. Who’s going to make me something to eat?

9.33 – 10.06 pm: Two hard-boiled eggs diced and mixed with equal amounts ketchup and mayonnaise, and spread on some bread. This is very Filipino — or, at least, it’s very much what my Filipina mother likes to eat. Though I should take a minute to mention that when I say “bread,” I mean pita bread.

11.31 pm: More orange juice, and two Tylenols.

Dinner at Eastern Standard.

My friend Alyssa and I have been talking for ages about getting together one night with our partners, and last night it all finally worked out. I suggested meeting for dinner at Kenmore Square’s Eastern Standard, not knowing that there was a Yankees/Red Sox game finishing up down the street at Fenway. I can get a bit anxious about things like post-game crowds, parking and being late; Keith and I left home with plenty of time, arriving half an hour early. Luckily there is a great (and great-looking) bar at ES, so we were able to get a drink while we waited.

The four of us decided to split two appetizers: baked Raclette cheese, and escargots poached in garlic and butter. It is difficult to go amiss with melty cheese, and it’s even harder when it comes to anything swimming in herb-infused butter — these two were fantastic. Thinly-sliced pieces of apple were suspended in the cheese, adding a truly surprising sweetness to the rich dish. Mixed in with the escargots’ butter were herbs, garlic, and something whose flavor I couldn’t quite place my finger on. Were they leeks? Were they shallots? But honestly, did it even matter? They were delicious.

While I was very much tempted by the hanger steak frites, with marrow-thyme butter and blue cheese, I chose something a little less rich: a crab cake sandwich and a green salad. I was thoroughly in the wrong, by thinking I was ordering a lighter entrée; as I lifted the sandwich, I smelled the wonderful aroma of butter. Neither the crab cake nor the bread tasted overly buttery; it was almost as if the two were enveloped in a sort of butter essence. Each time I brought the sandwich to my mouth, I breathed in its smell, and I have to tell you, I loved it. Next time, though, I’m ordering the frites.

Eastern Standard
528 Commonwealth Avenue
Boston, Masschusetts 02215
617.532.9100
easternstandardboston.com

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