Heather’s Kitchen in Ayer.

Where do you live?
Ayer, Massachusetts.
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How often do you cook or bake?
I bake infrequently (usually only for a special event or potluck), but I cook a lot.  When I say “I cook a lot” I mean to imply quantity more than frequency — my tendency is to make up a huge vat of something, based loosely or not at all on a recipe I may or may not have once glanced at in a magazine (which, if I may say so, usually turns out really well), and then subsist on that for several meals.  The organic farm share I had been receiving each week since June was been a huge motivator in getting things cooked up and socked away in the freezer for future use (lest something should — gasp — go bad and have to be composted).  It would seem to the outside world that I am preparing either for a) having a very large brood of children one day or b) Armageddon.

heather-2What is your favorite kitchen utensil?
My vintage Osterizer blender — I am constantly amazed each time I use it and it doesn’t die.  If that doesn’t count as a “utensil”, then I’d have to say my citrus reamer (also vintage, of course).  I have recently admitted to myself that freshly squeezed lemon or lime juice really does make all the difference in the world.

heather-3Which part of your kitchen do you like best and why?
Well, it would be silly of me not to put in a shout out for the ol’ fridge here.  When I walk into my house and see that big blue beauty, I get a smile on my face no matter how bad the day’s been.  And I have to admit I enjoy having something that makes just about everyone jealous!  Yes, Nayiri, your name is still on it for when I die.  (Nayiri’s note: For the record, while I do love Heather’s fridge, I laid claim to her mid-century modern credenza, her same-era dining table and all of the chairs in her house.)

heather-4What was your biggest kitchen accomplishment?  Please feel to include a recipe.
Because I don’t bake much, I think my biggest triumph to date was a big batch of Raspberry Streusel Bars I made for a boyfriend for Valentine’s Day.  It’s actually a pretty straight-forward recipe, but I had some sort of mental block on the shortbread part, so I was really impressed with myself when it went off without a hitch (and without a pastry cutter).  I have plans for my next big accomplishment to be bread.

Raspberry Streusel Bars, from The Joy of Cooking

  1. Grease a 13×9-inch baking pan.  Sift 2 cups all-purpose flour, ¼ cup sugar and ¼ teaspoon salt together in a large bowl.  Sprinkle 12 tablespoons (1½ sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces, over the top.  Using a pastry blender, 2 knives, or your fingertips, cut in the butter until the mixture resembles fine crumbs.  Then stir together 3 tablespoons milk and 1 teaspoon almond extract.  Sprinkle the milk mixture over the flour mixture. Lightly stir to blend.  Knead until milk is distributed and the particles begin to hold together.  If necessary, add a teaspoon or two more milk until the mixture holds together but is not wet.  Firmly press the dough into the pan to form a smooth, even layer.  Refrigerate for fifteen minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, position a rack in the center of the oven and another in the upper third.  Preheat the oven to 375ºF.  Bake the chilled dough in the center of the oven until barely firm in the center, 12 to 15 minutes.
  3. Spread 1 cup seedless raspberry jam evenly over hot crust.  To prepare the streusel, thoroughly whisk together 1¾ cups all-purpose flour, 1 cup sugar, ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon and ¼ teaspoon salt.
  4. Sprinkle 8 (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces, over the top.  Using a pastry blender, 2 knives, or your fingertips, cut in the butter until mixture is well blended.  Then, using a fork, stir into the flour mixture one at a time ¾ cups sliced blanched almonds and ½ cup old-fashioned rolled oats.  Lightly beat together 1 large egg and 2 tablespoons milk; stir into the flour mixture until the streusel is moistened and forms small clumps.  If necessary, add a teaspoon or two more milk, until the mixture is just moist enough to clump.  Sprinkle the streusel evenly over the raspberry jam, breaking up any large clumps with a fork or your fingertips.  Bake in the upper third of your oven until the streusel is nicely browned and the raspberry mixture is bubbly, 25 to 30 minutes.  Remove the pan to a rack to cool completely.  Cut into bars.

Another Reason to Like Boston.

As I sat shivering in bed this morning, listening to Keith tell me about the windchill outside — “It’s eight degrees out but feels like negative ten” — I realized that when I was listing what I like about this town, I forgot the most important reason why this ice-glazed city will always be dear to me, no matter how relentlessly tired I become of it: this is where I’ve made and met all of my adult friends.  While many of them have moved away, as I long to do, I still see them walking arm-in-arm down these narrow cobblestoned streets, gripping the sticky support rails on subway cars and laughing over empty glasses in dimly-lit bars.

So here’s to all of them, wherever they may be, and to the city that brought us together.

From the Email Archives.

Earlier today my friend Marcella emailed me a list that I had sent her years ago, and scarily enough a lot of it still applies, particularly items one, two, three and eight (even though it wasn’t very fuel-efficient and probably contributed significantly to global warming).

Subject: Where’s the love?

Things I miss:

  1. The Secret World of Alex Mack
  2. Winston, when he was a puppy particularly
  3. Deli Häus
  4. Noise Addict
  5. Breyer’s Mint Chocolate Chip
  6. Jonathan Brandis
  7. Sweet Valley High/Sweet Valley University
  8. my Four-Runner
  9. summers off
  10. boys boys boys boys boys

So sad.

The thing I find the most interesting on the list, though, is the fact that I mentioned Sweet Valley University, since I only have read one book in that series.  Sweet Valley High, on the other hand — well, let’s just say I’m familiar with Californian twins Elizabeth and Jessica Wakefield, as well as several of the books’ plotlines.  Standout favorites include the one in which Elizabeth wakes up from a coma with a new personality; the one in which Enid gets paralyzed; the one in which Jessica gets involved with rich boy Bruce Patman; the one in which Elizabeth is kidnapped…

I also have to confess that I read several of the “Super Editions” — I absolutely loved Spring Fever, in which Jessica and Elizabeth visit relatives in Kansas, get ostracized by the local kids and fall in love with a set of identical twins, until it is discovered that all is not what it seems.  Ultimately everything works out in the end — turns out the town’s teens are jealous of the twins’ California style, the carnies (did I mention there are carnies?) are accepted by the community, and Jessica gets to finally wear a gingham dress à la Dorothy Gale.

Sigh.  Does it get more dramatic than that?

On Eating Meat.

What I’m about to write may cause me to get a ton of grief but I’m going to write it anyway: I think I would like to kill a chicken. The way I look at it, if I’m going to go down to the market and buy its breast or the pair of its thighs packaged up neatly and sanitarily in plastic wrap and Styrofoam, I should be comfortable taking an axe to its neck.

The operative word in that sentence, of course, is should, because I don’t feel comfortable with the thought of taking an axe to anyone’s neck, let alone my dinner’s. Why is that though? Why do so many of us who eat meat feel squeamish at the thought of turning an animal into it? Recreational fishermen and women do it all the time — in the remake of The Parent Trap (the Lindsay Lohan version, not the one with the triplets) it is indicated that the father and the twins fish for and gut their meal, though all the action takes place off screen. For some reason, the idea of killing and cleaning a fish isn’t nearly as disturbing to some as the idea of doing the same to a bird — let alone a pig, a cow, a lamb, a rabbit, a deer, a calf, etc.

Let’s clarify a few things first. I’m not saying I’m going to acquire some live poultry and separate their heads from their bodies, just as I’m not saying that anyone who eats meat should first kill his or her food. I am very much a carnivore, and I sincerely doubt I will ever return to vegetarianism unless prescribed so by a doctor, and even then I know I’ll go against medical advice. I like meat far too much. I’m eating some lamb meatballs right now and they are lovely.

What I’m trying to say is this: I think it would be important for me — not for you or for anyone else, as this is not a doctrine — to kill something with the intention of then cooking and eating it. I think it would be a significant experience, and would force me to consider even more about what it is that I’m putting into my body. Too much of what we eat is almost automatic. We’ve turned animals into objects in a manner that epitomizes the definition of the word objectify, and if we are in fact what we eat, I want to be proud to be called chicken.

Coming Up!

In early November, my pal — and fellow New Yorker! — Stephanie had the absolutely brilliant idea of bringing together some friends, new and old, and starting a monthly supper club.  The basic idea is this:

supper-club1

The group would get together for dinner every four to six week, rotating amongst ourselves as to who would host each meal.  The host or hosts would then decide upon a theme (Mediterranean, squash, things that are red, etc.) and have first choice as to which course he, she or they would prepare.  The rest of us would be asked to bring the remaining courses to dinner, along with a bottle of wine, beer or similar, and Tupperware containers to bring home leftovers.  Then we could eat, drink, be merry, and have lovely conversations with new friends.  We planned to get together at my house late in December for our maiden voyage (maiden meal?) but unfortunately, we weren’t able to work it out.  It didn’t help that Boston got dumped with a gajillion inches of snow the day before, either.

This weekend, however, is our second go.  I think I might be even more excited about supper club now than I was in November, mostly because I’m using it as a reason to debut one of Keith’s Christmas gifts to me:  a raclette grill.  I’ve had raclette exactly once before, during a ski weekend that wasn’t quite a ski weekend, since only two people went skiing, and neither of them were me.  What it ended up being more than anything else was an eating weekend, and raclette was most definitely the gastronomic highlight.  Even now, more than two years later, I can easily rhapsodize about this cheese.  So I’m very much looking forward to Sunday, and to when we’ll be eating massive piles of melty raclette stirred into potatoes, mixed with caramelized onions, and spread onto crusty baguettes.

Sounds great, doesn’t it?  I’ll let you know how it all goes…  Aside from fabulously, of course!

(P.S. I was really happy with how the invitation to the Supper Club That Wasn’t turned out; the picture is actually from the first dinner I had at Persephone in Fort Point Channel last April.)

Another Unseasonal Dish, or What To Do With Leftovers.

Okay, here’s a confession.  I try to be as good as possible with leftovers, but reinventing a dish — or using the components in a different way — is an area where I’m not so skilled.  It bothers me, this failing of mine, but at least I’m aware of it, right?  And at least I’ve got friends to help me out.

Melissa was helping me tidy up after Saturday night’s dinner when I asked her, “Is this basil worth saving?”  I had a small bundle of basil ribbons left, but not so small a bunch that I could chuck them without thinking.

“Yes,” she said emphatically.  “There’s so many things you can do.  Toss it with some greens tomorrow, or some pasta.  Or,” she said slowly, an idea clearly forming in her head, “you could make a corn salad.  Use some dressing, some tomatoes, cheese…”

As Melissa spoke more about corn and basil, I began thinking of corn’s sweet crunch and how each bright bite automatically brings to mind the glorious, lazy days of summer — days of humidity as thick as honey, days of sun flowing through densely-leafed trees like lemonade from a pitcher.  Then I turned to the window and looked out into the dark, the glow cast from my well-lit kitchen reflected back at me, and through that I saw the falling powdery snow.

made-up-corn-saladI’m not much for summer or winter — I’m more of a spring/fall girl myself — but right then and there I wanted something to remind me that the cold isn’t around forever.  Since we had just eaten I knew I’d have to wait, so last night I eagerly unloaded my fridge.  Out came a crumbly piece of goat cheese, out came the teeny fistful of shredded basil, out came the leftover vinaigrette Melissa emulsified, out came a lonely unseasonal tomato, out came a slug of butter.  From the freezer I unearthed a small bag of sweet corn, which went into a sauté pan after the melted butter.  Soon corn was all I could smell.  A few short minutes later, I was folding myself into a blanket (which I secured in place with a binder clip, how chic!) and wrapping my cold hands around the corn’s still-toasty bowl.  If I closed my eyes, I could have fooled myself into thinking it was the sun keeping me warm.

Made-Up Corn Salad
Makes two portions

2 cups cooked corn kernels, fresh or frozen
1 medium tomato, cored, seeded and chopped
fresh basil chiffonade
4 ounces goat cheese, crumbled
1 ½ tablespoons red wine vinegar
½ tablespoon honey
2 ½ tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

  1. If you’re using frozen kernels, melt 1 tablespoon of butter in a sauté pan over medium heat; add corn and hear until warmed through.  Set aside to cool.
  2. In a small bowl, combine vinegar, honey, and salt and pepper to taste. Slowly whisk in olive oil until mixture is completely emulsified.
  3. In a larger bowl, combine corn, tomato, basil and goat cheese; drizzle the reserved vinaigrette over the salad, toss and serve.

Darlington’s Kitchen in Cambridge.

darlington-3Where do you live?
Up your butt.  Or Cambridge, Massachusetts.

darlington-8How often do you cook or bake?
Define “cook”…  Does Annie’s count? Maybe twice a week.

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What is your favorite kitchen utensil?
My ice cream scoop, because of what it implies.  My rubber spatula, in terms of how useful it is in things I make.

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Which part of your kitchen do you like best and why?
The countertops, because they look pretty, and the big cabinet above my refrigerator, because I can store loads of crap in it.
darlington-31

What was your biggest kitchen accomplishment?
Painting it! Oh, you mean culinary — vegan “Hostess” cupcakes!

Devil’s Food Cupcakes with Fluffy White Filling and Chocolate Icing, from Vegan With a Vengeance by Isa Chandra Moskowitz
Makes twelve cupcakes.

For cupcakes
Nonstick cooking spray
1 cup all-purpose flour
¼ cup Dutch-process cocoa powder
3 tablespoons black cocoa powder, or more Dutch-process cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
1 cup plain soy milk
¼ cup canola oil
½ cup pure maple syrup
¼ cup sugar
1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

For filling
1/3 cup nonhydrogenated margarine, such as Earthbalance
1/3 cup nonhydrogenated shortening
2 ½ to 3 cups confectioners’ sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

For chocolate icing
1/3 cup plain soy milk
4 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped
2 tablespoons pure maple syrup or confectioners’ sugar

For royal icing
2 cups confectioners’ sugar
1 to 2 tablespoons plain soy milk.

  1. Heat oven to 350°. Line a 12-muffin pan with paper liners, and spray lightly with nonstick spray. In a mixing bowl, stir together the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda and salt. In a mixer, combine the soy milk, oil, syrup, sugar, vinegar and vanilla. Mix at medium speed for 2 minutes. Add half the dry ingredients and mix to blend. Add remaining dry ingredients and mix for 1 minute.  Use a standard ice cream scoop to fill cupcake liners ¾ full. Bake until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean, 25 to 30 minutes. Turn out onto a cooling rack and allow to cool completely.
  2. For the filling: In a mixer, beat margarine and shortening until combined. Add 2 ½ cups confectioners’ sugar and beat until very fluffy, about 10 minutes. Taste for sweetness and add remaining ½ cup sugar if desired. Add vanilla and beat for 1 minute more.
  3. For the chocolate icing: In a small skillet, bring soy milk to a simmer. Reduce heat to very low and stir in the chocolate and maple syrup, stirring until just melted. Turn off heat.
  4. For the royal icing: Using an electric mixer or by hand, sift sugar into a bowl and add 1 tablespoon soy milk. Mix, adding up to 1 more tablespoon soy milk until consistency is like stiff toothpaste.
  5. To assemble, prepare two pastry bags, one fitted with a large plain tip, and one with a small writing tip. Fill large-tipped bag with filling, and the small-tipped bag with royal icing. (Instead of pastry bags, thick resealable plastic bags may be used. For filling, cut off one corner of bag so the opening measures a scant ½ inch across. For icing, opening should be just large enough to pipe a thin line.)
  6. Using your pinkie, poke a hole in center of each cupcake top about an inch deep. Push tip of pastry bag with filling into each hole, firmly squeezing in filling and slowly drawing tip up and out. When all cakes have been filled, wipe off any excess that sticks out from holes; tops of cupcakes should be flat.
  7. Place cupcakes on a baking sheet or tray that fits in refrigerator. Rewarm pan of chocolate icing over low heat if necessary, stirring constantly. Dip top of each cupcake into icing, swirling to coat completely. When all cupcakes are dipped, refrigerate 10 to 15 minutes to set. When set, use royal icing to make squiggles across center of each cupcake. Keep refrigerated until ready to serve, up to 1 day.

On Books + Slicing Onions.

This is how I spent the day: lolling in bed, stocking up at the grocery store before The Big Storm, then lolling on the sofa.  Oh, it was tiring.  I’m being half-serious here — I was lolling with the latest book club selection:  Innocent Traitor by Alison Weir, which is such an involving read that I couldn’t bear to be away from it for too long.  It also got me incredibly emotional; I was about a gasp and a half away from bawling my eyes out, something I very rarely do.  Honestly, the crying was so bad that at one point I turned to Keith and said, “If we had a puppy, I would be hugging it right now.  Will you be my puppy?”  And so he patted me on the back while I left an imprint of my tear-soaked face on his shirt, quite similarly to what Chuck Palahniuk‘s narrator does to Bob’s T in Fight Club.  Minus the testicular cancer, chaos and commentary on consumerism.

caramelized-onions1After I calmed myself down a bit, I headed to the kitchen to start caramelizing the onions for dinner tonight and for another meal later in the week.  Here’s a handy little trick I discovered:  if you want to avoid tearing up while slicing an onion, it helps to be crying already.  Don’t get me wrong — there’s no way that crying is going to prevent the burning sensation you’re going to feel behind your eyes the moment after you put your knife to an onion.  You’ll just be feeling so terrible already that you won’t mind the extra tears.

Okay, maybe that’s not necessarily the truth, but it kinda worked for me.

Anyway, tomorrow I’ll be making mejadara but tonight we’ll share with our friend Melissa a very unseasonal pizza, since it features fresh basil.  Though summer is months away, this is an incredibly light, easy-to-make meal that will make you feel as though its at least fifty degrees warmer outside.

pizzaA few notes about this dish…

In order for a pizza to be a pizza, it requires a bready, doughy crust.  Thing is, as I have said repeatedly, I am terrified of yeast.  Therefore, I buy my doughs or use a pre-made shell.  If you don’t have the same hang up, good for you — I’m sure your pizza will be indescribably fantastic.  If you too are frightened by yeast, rest assured that you won’t have to face your fear in order to enjoy a sweet and tangy dinner.

You can, of course, make your own sauce — and should! — but only when tomatoes are in season in order to get the fullest flavor.  When buying bottled, I like Enrico’s All Natural.

Lastly, the recipe calls for oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes.  The oil really does make all the difference, otherwise you’ll end up with tomato-flavored bark encircling your pizza.  That said, it is extremely important to drain the oil, otherwise you’ll have in your hands an utterly greasy mess.

(Unrelated:  I finally have a camera again and am in love.)

Caramelized Onion and Goat Cheese Pizza, from Cooking Light.
Makes six to eight portions.

2 teaspoons olive oil
1 thinly sliced onion, separated into rings
1 pre-made pizza crust
½ cup pizza sauce
¼ cup oil-packed julienned sun-dried tomatoes, drained
2/3 cup crumbled goat cheese
¼ cup chopped fresh basil

  1. Preheat oven to 450°.  Heat olive oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion; cover and cook for 3 minutes. Uncover and cook for 11 minutes or until golden brown, stirring frequently.
  2. Place the pizza crust on a baking sheet. Combine the sauce and tomatoes. Spread sauce mixture over pizza crust. Top with onion and cheese. Bake at 450° for 10 minutes or until crust is golden brown. Sprinkle with basil. Cut into wedges and serve.

A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket.

the-bad-beginningI don’t know if you’ve been able to tell based solely on what I’ve written here thus far, but I’m a pretty sarcastic gal.  Depending on which of my friends you speak with, you might even hear the word snarky used to describe me — that I cannot confirm or deny.

If there are any of you out there who share my fondness of the sardonic, pick up a book or two from Lemony Snicket‘s “A Series of Unfortunate Events.”  Its run is full of shyly satirical phrases, sentences and paragraphs (more on those in a bit).  Oh, and in case the series’ name isn’t a dead giveaway to its themes, let me be blunt.  These books deal with the unlucky, so much so that there are thirteen of them — The Bad Beginning, The Reptile Room, The Wide Window, The Miserable Mill, The Austere AcademyThe Ersatz Elevator, The Vile Village, The Hostile Hospital, The Carnivorous Carnival, The Slippery Slope, The Grim Grotto, The Penultimate Peril, and, of course, The End.  (I find it incredibly funny and interesting that the last book I read in 2008 was The End.  I am not making this up.)

The series tells the story of the three Baudelaire children — Violet, aged fourteen; Klaus, aged twelve; and Sunny, a baby — who the reader quickly learn are in for an extremely odd sequence of events.  The first thing they have to endure, however, is tragedy in the form of their parents’ death and the destruction of their home.  The two circumstances, aside from being terrible, happen to also be simultaneous, as Mr. and Mrs. Baudelaire are killed when their grand and glorious house burns down to the ground.

the-ersatz-elevator1The children, now orphans, are sent to live with a distant relative by the name of Count Olaf.  I’m not exaggerating when I say that chaos then ensues.  Judge for yourself; here’s an brief list of what Violet, Klaus and Sunny encounter during books one through thirteen:

  • the author’s siblings;
  • blind leeches with a keen sense of smell and a bottomless hunger;
  • green cigarettes;
  • a hunchback, a contortionist and an ambidextrous man;
  • made-up medical procedures;
  • a misnomer-loving herpetologist;
  • questionable fashion choices;
  • territorial crabs; and
  • the letters V.F.D.

Intriguing as I’m sure that all sounds, I can’t go into greater detail without giving away too much of the thirteen books’ plots.  What I can tell you is this:

Each Baudelaire has a very specific interest or hobby — Violet is an inventor, Klaus an avid reader, and Sunny is first a lover of biting things, then a fan of cooking when she gets older — that comes in handy several times during the course of each book.

the-vile-villageCount Olaf is a master of disguise, or at least thinks he is.  He is also not what he seems, and I don’t mean that in the sense that a disguise is an illusion and therefore hiding what is real versus what is imagined.  Olaf is not what he seems because, in the end (and in The End, come to think of it) the reader sees a phenomenally different side of him, albeit briefly.

Most characters, even the ones who are secondary, have names that are either  based in literature or are anagrams of those names.  Though I couldn’t keep track of them all, I still found it fascinating that the author could.

Speaking of both the author and things that are fascinating, what I found the most interesting about these books — from a writing perspective, anyway — is Lemony Snicket’s inclusion of himself in the story.  He tells the Baudelaires’ story as if it were true, and repeatedly informs the reader how he has pieced together the children’s tale over time.  He also sprinkles throughout the pages of each book deprecating anecdotes about himself (“Overall the shack was too miserable to serve as a storage space for old banana peels, let alone as a home for three young people, and I confess that if I had been told that it was my home I probably would have lain on the bales of hay and thrown a temper tantrum” — The Austere Academy.) as well as warnings for the reader to put the book down, abandon the series and flee.

the-hostile-hospitalThis is one of my favorites, from The Grim Grotto; here Lemony Snicket seems to  babble meanderingly only to quickly drive his point home, something he does quite often and with surprising success:

After a great deal of time examining oceans, investigating rainstorms, and staring very hard at several drinking fountains, the scientists of the world developed a theory regarding how water is distributed around our planet, which they have named “the water cycle.”  The water cycle consists of three key phenomena — evaporation, precipitation, and collection — and all of them are equally boring.

Of course, it is boring to read about boring things, but it is better to read something that makes you yawn with boredom than something that will make you weep uncontrollably, pound your fists against the floor, and leave tearstains all over your pillowcase, sheet, and boomerang collection.  Like the water cycle, the tale of the Baudelaire children consists of three key phenomena, but rather than read their sorry tale it would be best if you read something about the water cycle instead.

He then goes on to compare each Baudelaire to each stage of the water cycle.

the-endFor me, the absolute best part of the series, I regretfully say, is not the childrens’ story.  In fact, it’s not even the children; while they do grow and change and even age during the thirteen books, how truly compelling can a teenaged MacGyver, a human library and a toddling chef be?  No, what kept me reading was the the writing, as I’m sure you can guess.  Sometimes, Lemony Snicket is just plain silly (“Having an aura of menace is like having a pet weasel, because you rarely meet someone who has one, and when you do it makes you want to hide under the coffee table” — The Slippery Slope.) but there are also portions where he is tender and insightful.  Very early in the series a friend of the Baudelaires dies, which comes as a great shock.  In The Reptile Room, Lemony Snicket writes:

We all know that our time in this world is limited, and that eventually all of us will end up underneath some sheet, never to wake up. And yet it is always a surprise when it happens to someone we know. It is like walking up the stairs to your bedroom in the dark, and thinking there is one more stair than there is. Your foot falls down, through the air, and there is a sickly moment of dark surprise as you try and readjust the way you thought of things.

I know that as you read those words, you immediately thought of the last time you experienced that exact feeling and the brief flash of uncertainty that undoubtedly flitted across your mind at that moment.  This is precisely the power the author wields, though it should be noted that “Lemony Snicket” is a pen name, not that it matters.  What matters is squeezed between the bizarre and the absurd, the irony and the wit: it’s the words that hold it all together.

New Year, Old Thoughts.

I was walking down the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway not too long ago and found myself thinking again/as usual about Boston, and all the other places in the world where I could possibly be (Belize, Belarus, Belgium, Bahrain, Burundi, Bonaire).  Then I thought, The sun today is so pretty, shining just so, why can’t Boston be enough? So I decided, to keep me company as I warily made my way across the remaining patches of ice and snow, to make a list of things I love about this town (well, metro-area).   I came to Boston for a reason, after all, and have stayed for others, and when you’ve lived in one place for as many years as this it’s bound to leave its mark. I know that no matter where I go and where I end up, I’ll always have some sort of wanderlust hovering at the edge of my vision, almost the aura that zips along the corner of my eye just before I slip into a migraine — but without the pain.  Well, maybe not without the pain; it’s just different, when you long for something so much.  I just keep telling myself, Soon soon soon.  Hopefully it’s the truth.  Until then, this town is my home.

  • 90 Chestnut Street, my favorite building in all of Beacon Hill.  Next time I’m in the neighborhood (and when I have a working camera again) I’ll take a photo for you.
  • The back streets of Cambridge, and the literary history of the city.
  • Bloc 11, since it’s much easier to park in Union Square than it is when visiting its sister coffeehouse, Diesel Café, in Davis.
  • The Brattle Theatre, where I don’t watch movies often enough.
  • Commonwealth Avenue Mall, especially the portion between Exeter and Dartmouth Streets, where I shot my first student film with a 16mm Bolex.
  • The double-door brownstones in the South End, because they’re so stately.
  • Good, the gorgeous and pristine boutique on Charles Street selling such wares as John Derian découpage items and Satya jewelry.
  • Grub Street, where I’ve taken countless helpful and encouraging writing workshops.
  • Forest Hills Cemetery, which is both free to visit and incredibly beautiful.
  • Formaggio Kitchen, because — let’s face it — I just can’t live without cheese.
  • Janet Warner at Salon Marc Harris on Newbury Street, who has been cutting my hair and making me laugh since 2003, and doing a damn good job at both.
  • Porter Square Books, because sometimes it’s nice to actually buy a book in a store and not just at Amazon.
  • The view of the Charles from the roof of 132 Beacon Street, a sight I’ll probably never see from the same vantage point again since the building is currently being renovated into luxury condominiums.
  • Volle Nolle, the makers of the some of the best sandwiches in all of Boston.