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.

Christmas Brunch + Happy New Year.

Ack, here I am on January first, having not written you all in quite some time.  I wish I had some sort of glamorous reason why — A surprise trip to Bonaire!  An unexpected delivery of Vizsla puppies!  A new pair of Frye boots to break in! — but the sad truth is that I was just plain sick (though I did recently get those boots and love them).  Keith and I spent Christmas Eve at his brother’s, and come the day after Christmas, six out of the nine guests were moaning on their respective sofas.  We were two of them.

Instead of telling you how I felt during the three days immediately thereafter (unhappy, unwell, unpleasant), I thought you’d rather hear about the Christmas brunch I put together before the sickness set in. Unfortunately I’ve got zero photographic documentation, so please just take my word on how great everything turned out.

Brunch, or breakfast, is a meal I’m pleased to say I can turn out both really quickly and really well, something I fully credit book group with as we mostly meet up at brunchy times.  In fact, I recycled two successful recipes from some of those get-togethers — a jam crumb cake and a citrus salad — that are easy to throw together.  They also seem more impressive than they are, and are definite crowd pleasers.

Since I like to have something savory at breakfast, I decided to also make a quiche.  I didn’t think it would be cheating per se to use a premade crust especially since I was extremely limited on time, but I wanted to make up for it by choosing a recipe full of decadent ingredients.  A trio of cheeses, chopped leeks, strips of double-smoked bacon and a more than generous dollop of crème fraîche fit the bill exactly.

In spite of my morning preferences, I knew that my guests tended to lean more towards the sweet; for that reason I chose to do a baked French toast.  When you’ve a group of people coming over for breakfast, the last thing you’ll want to do is stand over the stove, mechanically flipping slices of bread — it’s no fun for you and besides, your friends came over to see you, not your back at the cooktop.  I don’t care if your back is particularly lovely, or if you’ve got a spectacular neck tattoo you’re dying to share — I prefer having my conversations face-to-face, and that is why a baked French toast is perfect.  All you have to do is arrange your bread in an oven-proof dish, douse it with custard, refrigerate overnight and slide the whole thing in the oven about thirty minutes before you plan to eat.  It couldn’t be any simpler, and it will most certainly be a hit with those craving something sweet.  And best of all, you’ll be able to spend time with your friends.

Speaking of friends, I wanted to take a moment to thank you all for reading my sometimes rambling messages.  I really appreciate it, and am wishing you all the best year yet.

Jam Crumb Cake, from Gourmet
Makes six to eight portions.

For cake
1 cup all-purpose flour
½ cup sugar
1 ¾ teaspoons baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
¾ stick unsalted butter, melted
½ cup milk
1 large egg
½ cup raspberry jam or preserves

For crumb topping
¾ stick unsalted butter, melted
¼ cup packed brown sugar
¼ cup granulated sugar
¾ teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

  1. Preheat oven to 400° with rack in middle. Generously butter a 9-inch square or round cake pan.  Whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt.  Whisk together butter, milk, and egg in a large bowl, then whisk in flour mixture until just combined. Pour batter into cake pan. Dollop jam all over surface, then swirl into batter with spoon.
  2. Whisk together butter, sugars, cinnamon, and salt until smooth. Stir in flour, then blend with your fingertips until incorporated. Sprinkle crumbs in large clumps over top of cake.
  3. Bake cake until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean and sides begin to pull away from pan, about 25 minutes. Cool in pan on a rack 5 minutes.

Note:  I’ve only got a ten-inch round cake pan, so I double the cake recipe but prepare just one recipe’s worth of crumb topping.  The cake then takes about thirty to forty minutes in the oven.

Boozy Baked French Toast, from Smitten Kitchen
Makes six to eight portions.

1 loaf  Challah bread cut into 1-inch slices
3 cups whole milk
3 eggs
3 tablespoons sugar
½ teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons Grand Marnier
zest of one orange

  1. Generously grease a 9×13-inch baking dish with butter.  Arrange bread into two tightly-packed layers in the pan.  Reserve one slice of bread to cut into smaller pieces to fill in gaps.
  2. Whisk milk, eggs, sugar, salt,  Grand Marnier and zest and pour over the bread.   Wrap tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight. The bread will absorb all of the milk custard while you sleep.
  3. Bake at 425° for 30 minutes, or until puffed and golden. This will take longer if you have additional layers.  Cut into generous squares and serve with maple syrup, fresh fruit, powdered sugar or all of the above.

Note:  I used a deep 9×5 baking dish, so I made this with three layers of bread.  It still took only thirty minutes in the oven until the bread inflated and turned gold.

Citrus Salad with Mint Sugar, Bon Appétit.
Makes six to eight portions.

2 white grapefruits
2 pink grapefruits
6 large navel oranges
½ cup fresh mint leaves
¼ cup sugar

Cut peel and white pith from grapefruits and oranges. Cut between membranes to release segments. Combine fruit in large shallow bowl. (Fruit can be segmented 1 day ahead. Cover and refrigerate.)  Place mint and sugar in processor. Using on/off turns, blend until mint is finely chopped, occasionally scraping down sides of bowl. Sprinkle mint sugar over fruit; serve.

Note:  There were some really gorgeous-looking blood oranges at Whole Foods, so I decided to use 4 ruby red grapefruits, 3 large navel oranges and 4 good-sized blood oranges.  The combination of colors was fantastically pretty.

Ham, Leek + Three-Cheese Quiche, from Gourmet.
Makes six to eight portions.

1 round of refrigerated pie dough for a 9-inch pie (from a 15-oz package; not a preshaped frozen pie shell)
¾ pounds leeks (about 3 medium; white and pale green parts only)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
¼ pound thinly sliced smoked ham
3 ounces Gruyère, coarsely grated (1 cup)
3 ounces Italian Fontina, coarsely grated (1 cup)
3 ounces whole-milk mozzarella, coarsely grated (1 cup)
3 large eggs
1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
¼ teaspoon black pepper
1 ¾ cups crème fraîche (from two 8 ounces containers)

  1. Prebake pie dough in pie plate according to package instructions, then remove from oven and reduce temperature to 350°.  Meanwhile, halve leeks lengthwise and cut crosswise into ½ inch pieces, then wash well in a bowl of cold water, agitating leeks. Lift out and drain leeks in a colander and pat dry. Melt butter in a 10-inch heavy skillet over moderately low heat and cook leeks, stirring occasionally, until very tender, 8 to 10 minutes.
  2. Line warm pie shell with sliced ham, overlapping layers as necessary to cover bottom and side of pie shell completely. Toss cheeses together and sprinkle evenly into pie shell (do not pack cheese), then spread leeks evenly on top of cheese. Whisk together eggs, nutmeg, and pepper until combined well, then whisk in crème fraîche until smooth.
  3. Carefully pour half of custard on top of pie filling, gently moving cheese with a spoon to help custard disperse evenly. Slowly add remaining custard in same manner. Cover pie loosely with foil, gently folding edges over crust (keep foil from touching top of cheese mixture) and transfer to a baking sheet.
  4. Bake until center of filling is puffed and set (center will be slightly wobbly but not liquid), about 1 ¼ to 1 ½ hours. Cool on a rack at least 20 to 30 minutes before serving (filling will continue to set as it cools). Serve warm or at room temperature.

Note:  I’m not a fan of ham, so I was really pleased to see a double-smoked bacon in the case at Formaggio Kitchen.  I mean, honestly — who doesn’t prefer bacon?

Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?

parismetrolargetif-3.jpg What are we doing here, sitting still, when we could be out there, running around and seeing all the things in the world that we have yet to see? As I’m typing this, I can’t help but think about all everything I’ve got to do tonight (buy new bobbins, cook dinner, work on some writing, figure out my Easter menu, organizing Keith’s birthday gifts) but really, what I want to do is hit the road. Does the romance and luster of running away ever fade?

I want to see Bonaire, I want to see Buenos Aires, I want to walk along the same streets my dad did when he was growing up, I want to go back to Vienna and find that amazing crêpe place around Stephansplatz, I want to see Bali at least one more time, I want to hang over the railing of a Star Ferry boat crossing Victoria Harbour from Kowloon to Hong Kong like I did when I was like ten except this time I don’t want to get sick.

Normally I get this feeling after I’ve been somewhere and have just begun the voyage home; I practically start itching to turn the car or the plane or the train around because I don’t want to go back. I’ll be looking forward being able to at last sleep in my own bed — truly my favorite place in the whole world — but then, next thing I know, I’ll start feeling desperate to go somewhere else. So why am I feeling the urge now, since my last trip was to Spain in November? It might have to do with the fact that this morning I woke up and just wanted to stay in bed. After all, why am I waking up in the same place morning after morning when I have yet to wake up in Lisbon, or in Santiago, or in Kyoto?

Then again, it’s not just about going places, it’s the intimate knowledge of a place — the desire to truly inhabit a destination — that I want. So here is an impromptu list of where I’d like to go and re-go (in orange), in alphabetical order as otherwise it will take me too long to prioritize. Did I miss anything?

  • Austin, Texas
  • Bali
  • Barcelona
  • Bath
  • Beijing
  • Beirut
  • Belgium
  • Bonaire
  • Bora Bora
  • Bordeaux
  • Bristol
  • Budapest
  • Buenos Aires
  • Cambridge, England
  • Chicago
  • Copenhagen
  • Cuba
  • Curaçao
  • Dog Island, Florida
  • Dover
  • Ecuador
  • Egypt
  • El Yunque
  • Fiji
  • Hong Kong
  • Iceland
  • Idaho
  • Jerez de la Frontera
  • Kenya
  • Kowloon
  • Krakow
  • Kyoto
  • Languedoc
  • London
  • Los Angeles
  • Manila
  • Minnesota
  • Montana
  • Montréal
  • Morocco
  • Moscow
  • New Orleans
  • New Zealand
  • Nova Scotia
  • Osaka
  • Oxford
  • Panama
  • Paris
  • Peru
  • Pittsburgh
  • Portland, Maine
  • Portland, Oregon
  • Portugal
  • Prague
  • Puerto Rico
  • Québec
  • San Francisco
  • Santiago
  • Savannah, Georgia
  • Scotland
  • Seattle
  • Shanghai
  • Singapore
  • South Africa
  • South Korea
  • Sweden
  • Taiwan
  • Thailand
  • The Cyclades
  • The Dalmatian Coast
  • The Dominican Republic
  • The Loire Valley
  • The Netherlands
  • The Rhône Valley
  • The Seychelles
  • Tokyo
  • Toronto
  • Venezuela
  • Vermont
  • Vienna
  • Vietnam
  • Wales