Boston to Portland.

1.34 – 2.10 pm: On the way to the airport. I’ve been on all four lines of Boston’s subway system today, something I don’t know if I’ve done before.

2.20 pm: Waiting for Keith at Terminal B. I’ve come straight from work; he took the day off. I hate working half-days. I prefer the all-or-nothing approach.

2.28 pm: Sitting next to a woman that, funnily enough, I also sat next to hours before on the red line this morning into work. She was also seated next to me on the blue line on the way to the airport, on the shuttle bus from the subway station to the terminals, and now here. If she’s on the same flight as me, that’s one thing, but if she’s seated next to me and Keith, I’ll have to ask her for her phone number or something, because the universe is clearly trying to put us together.

2.30 – 2.42 pm: Check in, security, etc.

2.50 pm: The gate is very quiet, and clean, with the same anonymity of a hospital.

3.15 pm: I seem to have broken one of the toilets. I had depressed the button for the flush mechanism, and it apparently thinks that one flush is not sufficient. It’s still flushing itself as I wash my hands and exit the restroom; even from more than twenty paces away, I can hear the rush of water. The toilet must be powered by a jet engine.

3.27 pm: I look up from my book just in time to see a blonde woman walk by in trendy but complicated-looking gladiator-style flats. There are at least four buckles per sandal. I can’t even imagine how long it took for her to undo each shoe at security. I’m so glad I hadn’t been in line behind her or similar.

3.38 pm: I walk up to the counter at the gate to see if there are any adjacent seats available; as it is, Keith and I will be seated one behind the other. There are several bags surrounding the counter, evidently belonging to the flight crew milling about. I step into the one vacant space, which happens to be in front of a uniformed woman standing behind the counter. Before I can open my mouth or even make eye contact, another uniformed woman appears at my elbow. “She’s a flight attendant,” the second woman says curtly, nodding at the first. “She can’t help you with seat changes. Are you looking for a seat change?” I’m taken aback by her brusque and vaguely rude manner, so all I do is nod. “Well,” she says sniffily, “We’re flight attendants. We don’t do seat changes. Ask her,” she tells me, pointing to a third woman who has just stepped up to the machine used to scan boarding passes. I want to tell the second woman that there’s no need to be so obnoxious, but what’s the point? With my luck, she’ll be in charge of my section on the plane, and will deny me my pretzels.

3.45 pm: I am more than halfway through my book, which I started reading this morning on the subway. I don’t want to finish it while sitting here, but I also don’t want to tear into my magazines just yet. I’ve got to ration out my reading better, or learn to read slower, or acquire a Kindle.

4.05 pm: In the boarding line. I’m surprised by a woman with a really dowdy haircut, the kind that just screams “Mother.” She’s dressed unremarkably, in a pale yellow short-sleeved top with a floral macramé detail around the slightly scooped neckline and shapeless denim capris in a faded wash. On her feet, she’s wearing incredibly sexy high-heel sandals that look so out of place with her outfit and her hairstyle that it makes me think of those toys kids have: a panel divided into three parts — head, torso and legs — that leaves it up to the child to match up the giraffe’s long neck with its speckled body and knobby legs.

Something pm: I’ve got to guess at times now, because I’ve no watch and I’ve turned off my phone as instructed. There is a very unhappy baby somewhere behind me, crying in such a way that it makes me wonder if it hurts its throat to do so.

Something else pm: Not knowing the time is going to drive me crazy. Since last writing, I’ve read two chapters of my book and Lucky cover-to-cover. We still haven’t taken off, though we are taxiing and someone from the cockpit (The pilot? The copilot?) just announced we’re third for takeoff.

Not too long afterward: We are airborne. The subway woman is on the same flight, by the way, but seated in another row, and the unpleasant flight attendant is the leader of the whole crew.

Also not too long afterward: The crossword puzzle in the Alaska Airlines magazine is really difficult. Either that or I’m an idiot.

2.11 pm: One of my seatmates has a laptop, and if I angle my head just so, I can see the time. He must be from the West Coast. What the heck — I’ll take it. Incidentally, we have the same laptop, he and I.

2.20 pm: I think I’ll try to sleep.

3.09 pm: Semi-successful, semi-awakened by the food cart. Earlier, the digEplayer cart rolled around, with handheld video players for ten dollars. The food cart’s got the DeliPak for five dollars. These Paks and the digEplayer bring to mind Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid Tale — Econowives, Feels-On-Wheels, Compuchecks, etc.

3.13 pm: Apparently we are flying over Lake Huron, but I’m in a middle seat. My other seatmate, the one next to the window, is kind of creeping me out. I keep on catching him staring at me. He also has not brought any reading materials or an iPod or anything. I am his in-flight entertainment.

3.30 pm: Reading Saveur. When we get back home, I think I’ll try making gravlax. Oh, and mussels.

3.40 pm: This baby has what I can only describe as truly ear-shattering scream capacity. It would be a shame to waste lungs like these. This kid better grow up to become a world-class opera singer.

3.45 pm: Is the idea of taking a New England ice cream tour interesting to anyone aside from me?

3.47 pm: Another thing to do when I get home: have my knives sharpened.

3.55 pm: More to do at home: lox and cream cheese, on a toasted garlic or onion bagel. The next time I go to my parents’, I will have to ask them to arrange this.

4.37 pm: Keith is chatting with his neighbor. It sounds like a nice enough conversation. I’m sitting here, my elbows tucked firmly into my ribs, eating peanut M&Ms and pretending the two people on either side of me don’t exist.

4.49 pm: The baby now sounds like it is gargling whilst screaming.

5.15 pm: Trying to sleep. My back is killing me. Also: I keep on catching my creepy neighbor giving me the eyeball. The truly disconcerting part is that he doesn’t look away when this happens.

6.03 pm: The flight attendant rolling the beverage cart is wearing Chanel drop earrings, but I think they are fakes. What would you call them? Chan-not? Chan-no?

6.45 pm: “Ladies and gentlemen,” the head flight attendant announces on the intercom. “If you look to your left, you’ll get a spectacular view of what I think is Mount Hood.” Heads crane to peer out of the windows, as the copilot introduces himself on the intercom, adding, “Flight attendants, prepare for arrival, and yes, that is Mount Hood.”

7.17 pm: I haven’t been to this Portland in about seven years. And now, I’m back.

CSA 2008, Week Four.

Keith and I picked up our box this week in the absolute torrential rain. I am not kidding — sheets of water came down out of the sky with more pressure than I’ve got in my shower. It was lucky, though, because I had been waiting outside for Keith to swing by my office so we could get our box together; not even after a minute in the car, the rain came crashing down. I had been watching the low-hanging clouds approach with growing apprehension, and after the loudest crack of thunder — that was it.

In spite of the weather, I was really excited to get our box; it would be my first time to the pick-up spot, and I was excited to see the boxes in their natural habitat. When we arrived, the rain prevented me from looking around much — though it does, I suppose, get to a point where a person simply can’t get any wetter — but I was really surprised to see how many boxes were stacked along the porch, as well as the long list of participants, who this week would be enjoying the following vegetables:

  • Spinach
  • Swiss chard
  • Salad greens
  • Baby squash
  • Turnips
  • Kohlrabi
  • Baby carrots
  • Scapes

This week was an even busier one for me than usual, so I kept my vegetables as basic as possible. The greens became a salad; the chard and spinach I sautéed with the scapes; the turnips I puréed with some caramelized onions; the carrots and baby squash I roasted in the oven with some thyme; and the kohlrabi I boiled until just tender, before sprinkling with salt and squeezing a lemon’s juice over the cubes. (A quick note about kohlrabi, which I admit I was a little nervous about — a very intimidating-looking item! It is extremely fibrous.)

Next week should be an interesting CSA box, in the sense that Keith and I will be in Oregon; Darlington and Amanda are going to step in for us. I’m interested to see what they end up with, and how they put it to use. I’ll keep you posted…

Dinner at Tangierino.

Joann had never had Moroccan food, so when she asked us for a restaurant suggestion, Keith almost immediately brought up Tangierino. He and I hadn’t been to the Charlestown restaurant in a while, and we remembered it as a fun spot to go with out-of-town guests.

The aesthetics of Tangierino haven’t changed; it’s still done up with jewel tones, with semi-sheer draperies dividing the main floor into intimate sitting areas furnished with inlaid tables and plush, poufy chairs and settees. While the décor is pretty, though in an overly theme-y sort of way, I’ve now decided that it’s in fact quite impractical. We were seated adjacent to the hookah bar, at visually interesting but ultimately uncomfortable table/daybed combo. The table was of an unusual height — more for coffee than for dining — and its legs were so wide and cumbersome that both Joann and I had to clamber over the daybed’s arms in order to sit down. I had to sit cross-legged on the daybed, feeling very rude in doing so, because the table was so low I couldn’t get my legs underneath.

Tangierino’s menu is split in such a way that the diner is presented with both authentic and contemporary choices of appetizers and entrées. In my past visits, I’ve tended to stick solely with the more traditional plates, and this time was no exception.

For my starter, I went with a dish I’ve always enjoyed: chicken b’stila — a chicken and toasted almond mixture wrapped in phyllo, and served with a minted yogurt sauce ($10.00). As I mentioned earlier, I hadn’t been to Tangierino in several months (if not a year) but my memory of the b’stila’s appearance did not match up with what I was served. The b’stila has some sweetness to it as it is, so I was very surprised that my plate was fully swathed in powdered sugar. I had to scrape as much off as I could with the flat of my knife. Aside from that, the b’stila was rich and flavorful, with hints of underlying spice — tasting as lovely as I remembered, which made me wonder what the superfluous sugar was for.

As always, I was torn between a few entrée options; I decided to balance the sweetness of the b’stila with the simplicity of the seven vegetable couscous ($17.00). On my last visit to Tangierino, a friend ordered the same couscous and raved about it so much that I stole a few bites off of her plate. As I recall, it was zesty and tasty, studded throughout with savory roasted vegetables. I thought it would be a perfect match to the b’stila.

I couldn’t have been more mistaken.

The couscous was so bland and boring that I can’t even bring myself to describe it. All I can say is that I can’t remember being as disappointed with one of my entrée choices in a long while. As I ate, I remember instead longing for a couscous dish that I myself frequently make — how terrible is that, wishing you were eating in your own kitchen instead of at a restaurant? I had never felt that way before, and it made me really sad.

Maybe others have better luck with main courses at Tangierino. I hope so.

Tangierino
83 Main Street
Charlestown, Massachusetts 02129
617.242.6009
tangierino.com

Tangierino on Urbanspoon

Mrs. Kimble by Jennifer Haigh.

A few months ago, I took part in Grub Street‘s Muse and the Marketplace writers’ conference, where I had the opportunity to attend six workshops over the course of the weekend. One of those workshops was led by Jennifer Haigh, who spoke at length about the act of “pre-writing.” I suppose it could be described as creating back-story for your characters, but it’s really more than that; Haigh mentioned having notebooks upon notebooks for single characters, something I considered at the time to be absolutely amazing. Now that I’ve read her debut novel Mrs. Kimble, it’s completely unsurprising; Haigh knows her character’s better than — well, better than I could even come close to articulating.

After a brief, attention-grabbing prologue, Mrs. Kimble begins in 1961; it is the story of three women, though the title’s singular nature would have you assume otherwise. The pages follow Birdie, Joan and Dinah, three very different women who become, at one point or another, the Mrs. Kimble of the novel’s name. They are as follows:

  1. Birdie Bell, the first Mrs. Kimble: an old-fashioned Southern gal that Ken Kimble has left, along with their two young children. Depressed and often drunk, Birdie never quite gets over her husband’s abandonment — and is never able to hold down a job, let alone raise her kids.
  2. Joan Cohen, the second Mrs. Kimble: a more modern woman accustomed to holding her own in the fast-paced, male-dominated field of journalism. She meets Ken Kimble at a time when she is most vulnerable: her father has died, she is packing up his sprawling Florida estate and she has just lost a breast to cancer.
  3. Dinah Whitacre, the third and last Mrs. Kimble: Birdie’s former babysitter and twenty-five years younger than Ken Kimble. Unhappily married, she ends her affair with her tennis coach to care for her husband after he has a heart attack.

Haigh handles all of her characters deftly and gives each one a fully-fleshed, multidimensional personality, which I now know is a direct result of pre-writing. If that wasn’t achievement enough, she also eloquently alludes to the many definitions of family, the concept of marriage (or partner-hood) as completeness and the idea of perfection — topics I think are timely, timeless and universal.

New York to Boston.

This is the four-disc soundtrack from Keith and my drive from New York this weekend. We’ve got a very persnickety CD player that only plays what it wants to play when it wants to play it, which limits our choices quite a bit. On the drive in, we listened to Lil Wayne‘s Tha Carter III, Spiritualized‘s Songs in A&E and Old Crow Medicine Show‘s Big Iron World.

In case you can’t read my handwriting, here’s the list in type — though I will say that, in my defense, it was a very bumpy drive.

World Without TearsLucinda Williams

Raising SandRobert Plant and Alison Krauss

At Mount ZoomerWolf Parade

Fleet FoxesFleet Foxes

CSA 2008, Week Three.

In January Keith and I first started looking for a CSA, purposely searching for one that had a nearby pick-up spot. We went through the list of options and eliminated the programs which required us to head out to the farm on a weekly basis. We knew that we wouldn’t be able to commit to driving the twenty-some miles to The Food Project‘s location in Lincoln every weekend in order to pick up our box.

When Keith got our first box, the coordinator explained that as the seasons begin to transition out of spring and into summer, our weekly share would gradually get larger. Eventually, she said, the produce may not even fit into the box; there may be melons and miscellaneous squash to tote home as well. Well, the weather hasn’t even begun to level out and already our box has gotten a little bigger. In fact, I couldn’t even photograph the vegetables in the box, because of crowding issues. I had to line everything up on my counter, like so. This week, we received the following:

  • Two heads of lettuce
  • Swiss chard
  • Radishes
  • Scallions
  • One lonely zucchini

As in weeks before, I chopped up the lettuces for a mixed green salad; I skewered the zucchini and scallions with some beef that I had marinated with sesame oil, chili, ginger and garlic. Since I knew that we would be visiting my parents in New York this weekend, I saved the radishes to bring home to my dad… which left me with that bouquet of Swiss chard.

Each week, our box comes with a handful of recommended usages for its contents. This week’s box came with a delicious-sounding recipe that I had to try out: Chard Pie. I love a nice pie, but have actually never made one from scratch (read: homemade crust). The recipe actually didn’t come with instructions on how to make a crust; I turned to my cookbook library to help me out, and I’ve got to say I was so pleased with the results.

One more thing to mention: the pie recipe does not specify what kind of cheese to use. I happened to have some Parmesan and Fontina on hand, so I used a mixture of both. The next time I make this pie, I think I’ll use Comté or Gruyère Alpage.

Chard Pie, from Asparagus to Zucchini
Makes about eight portions.

1 onion, chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 bunch chard
1 teaspoon Balsamic vinegar
6 eggs
1 cup shredded cheese
1 teaspoon salt
Fresh thyme or rosemary, chopped
½ recipe Basic Pie Dough (below)

  1. Heat oven to 400˚. Heat oil over medium flame; when the oil is ready, sauté onion and garlic until golden brown.
  2. Trim and chop chard; add to pan with vinegar and cook contents down until the greens are wilted. Remove from heat.
  3. Beat eggs in a bowl; mix in cheese, salt, herbs and chard mixture. When fully incorporated, pour into pie shell. Bake 30-40 minutes, or until a knife inserted into the center comes out clean.

Basic Pie Dough, from The New Best Recipe Cookbook from Cook’s Illustrated
Makes enough dough for one double-crust nine-inch pie.

2 ½ cups unbleached all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting the work surface
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons sugar
½ cup vegetable shortening, chilled
1 ½ sticks cold unsalted butter, cut into ¼-inch pieces
6-8 tablespoons ice water

  1. Process the flour, salt and sugar in a food processor until combined. Add the shortening and process until the mixture has the texture of coarse sand, about ten seconds. Scatter the butter pieces over the flour mixture; cut the butter into the flour until the mixture is pale yellow and resembles coarse crumbs, about ten one-second pulses. The butter bits should be no larger than small peas. Turn the mixture into a medium bowl.
  2. Sprinkle six tablespoons of ice water over the mixture. With a rubber spatula, fold in to mix. Press down on the dough with the broad side of the spatula until the dough sticks together; add up to two more tablespoons ice water if needed.
  3. Divide the dough into two balls and flatten each into a four-inch disk. Wrap each in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least one hour or up to two days before using.

Dinner at King Fung Garden.

Something I’d been meaning to do for a while was get myself down to King Fung Garden in Chinatown because I absolutely love duck. I relate so much to Catherine Zeta-Jones’s character in Traffic, when she says it’s a fatty bird — she delivers this line in such a way that she appears simultaneously enamored and appalled. Ultimately, the character turns out to be not very likable, but I don’t care; I have an almost ridiculous fondness for duck, and I understand exactly what she meant.

So take that idea one step further, and imagine how I feel about Peking duck… The idea of eating one was made even more exciting because I haven’t had Peking duck probably in about ten years; come to think of it, I don’t think I’ve ever had Peking duck in the States before.

If you go to King Fung specifically for Peking duck, you must call ahead with at least twenty-four hours’ notice; don’t expect to be able to simply walk in and order duck off of the menu, though it is listed there for ($34.00). That time is needed to prepare the bird in the traditional fashion, which involves shooting air between the duck’s skin and its flesh in order to separate one from the other.

Peking duck at King Fung is served in the very traditional three ways, the first of which is my absolute favorite way to eat duck in the entire world. (I am not kidding.) The crispy, fatty skin is removed from the bird and served with hoisin sauce, crêpes and scallion — which King Fung serves in really pretty flares that we kept on referring to as “fireworks.”

Eating this kind of Peking duck is easy: smear a crêpe with a dollop or two of hoisin, center a strip of skin on the crêpe, and arrange some scallions on top of the skin before rolling the entirety up into a cylinder. The perfect bite will have a bit of each element.

The second preparation of duck was again very classic: a stir fry of the meat, with bean sprouts, greens and carrots. Flavor-wise, it was very subtle; honestly, I can’t say if I liked this dish or not. I was simply so thrilled with the first style of Peking duck that it would have been so very impossible for any other item on the table to outshine it. This straightforward dish was really nice, don’t get me wrong — it just must be said that the first take on Peking duck is the most flavorful, hands down.

It’s my understanding that Peking duck was originally conceived as a method of cooking that would use all elements of the bird, which is why first the skin is consumed, followed by the flesh. After all of that, what could possibly be utilized next?

Well, since you mentioned it… The last preparation of duck made use of the bones. Stewed and roasted, they make a light and mild broth, in which some firm tofu cubes were floating. The broth also held some fine glass noodles; when I was younger, I used to call them “swimming noodles” because it’s all but impossible to snag any of these slippery strands with a spoon. The only solution is to twirl them up with a fork à la spaghetti, otherwise frustration can easily prevent me from eating much of a soup such as this. Aggravation aside, I helped myself to seconds; like the duck and crêpes, I love this kind of soup. I find it so satisfying, without being dense and heavy.

When I rang up King Fung the day before to request my duck, I mentioned that I would be part of a party of four — Joann, Keith, Melissa and me. I asked, “Is one duck going to be enough?” The response was, “You’re going to want to more food.”

With that in mind, we ordered several other dishes to round out our table, the first of which was an order of scallion pancakes — which were listed as “scallion pie” on the menu ($2.95). Some people may find this sort of pancake too greasy, as it is fried in oil; to those people I say “Shove over.” I’ll happily eat your share; these crispy triangles are crunchy and flavorful, and I absolutely love them. King Fung’s are terrific. Even if we hadn’t set out to supplement our Peking duck with some additions, I would have insisted upon this.

We also decided to go with some steamed pork buns ($5.50 for ten mini buns). While quite delicious, I think we were all surprised when the cheerful waitress brought the plate to the table. I know I was expecting more of a bread-like item as opposed to a dumpling; maybe it’s just all semantics.

In the end, it didn’t really matter because these were so unbelievably tasty. My only word of advice in relation to these buns/dumplings is to wait until everything has stopped billowing steam before attempting to eat one. Otherwise you are guaranteed to burn your tongue, or at least the roof of your mouth. Also, bite into these little purses with the utmost care as the pork’s juices are contained by the wonton. (I suppose that’s two pieces of advice, but who’s counting?) More than one of us dribbled broth down our fronts. It was quite glamorous.

As with the scallion pancakes, our last dish was something I would have insisted upon had my friends not also agreed: Shanghai chow mein ($5.50). I flat-out, thoroughly and wholly love egg noodles; I love their flavor, and the amount of resistance they offer in the mouth. It’s without a doubt an item I could eat for every meal for several days, so there was simply no way I could pass these up.

We realized early in that we had ordered way too much food for four people, but you know what? It didn’t matter. Everything we got was great; even the stir-fried duck, whose only fault was in coming to the table immediately after the lovely skin, was very good. If it had come first, I know I wouldn’t feel such guilt for so blatantly preferring its predecessor.

If you decide to get some duck, you must be prepared for is King Fung’s sheer smallness — the space used to be a gas station and now there are less than ten teensy tables inside, another reason why phoning in advance for your duck is a good idea. More than one group of people stuck their heads in the door, only to turn away upon seeing that each chair in the room was taken. And with good reason.

King Fung Garden
74 Kneeland Street
Boston, Massachusetts 02111
617.357.5262

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