Monday, August 17, 2009

Driving Ms. Jaime - Frumpy's Adventures in the Big Apple

Sunday, August 16 dawned hot and sunny, and Frumpy, the minivan, was stuffed to the gills with carefully selected and packed items for Jaime's new adventures at Teacher's College in the coming year. By 9 am, Jaime had said goodbye to the dogs, her dad and sister, and Jim and we set off, le TomTom guiding the way.

By noon, our first hurdle had been overcome - we had successfully executed a key exchange at the train station in New Canaan, CT in the blistering (but thankfully dry) 90 degree heat. Encouraged, we began what we thought would be a short leg from New Canaan to Manhattan. Well, short as the crow flies, anyway! Once over the state line, we were achieving approximately 40 mpm - minutes per mile! Patience, which Haddens and their offspring know well, is a highly overrated virtue - but necessary in this case. The heinous delay turned out to be a truck and car simultaneously blocking BOTH lanes for access to the George Washington bridge. Gaah. Looking at the equally slow moving traffic on the other side of 95, I declared that I wasn't taking THAT route home.

Two hours later, we arrived at 940 Amsterdam Avenue - to encounter our NEXT hurdle - no parking spaces! I wedged poor Frumpy illegally behind a construction dumpster and a smidge in front of a fire hydrant. The good thing about this was there was space behind the hydrant to open the hatch to the rear of the minivan - the bad thing was either Jaime or I needed to stay with the car and her stuff! (No less than three passerbys offered to take some of Jaime's stuff off our hands!) Jaime made a few trips carrying items up to the third floor walk-up while I moved as much stuff out of the car as possible and made a trip up myself to scope out the new digs until our savior Dave arrived (with a bagel for Jaime!) to help carry the big pieces up.

Jaime's new apartment is well-located, close to Columbia and Morningside Park, with many restaurants and a laundromat on her short block. Her room is large, with two bright windows, and the armoire and dresser purchased from the previous tenant were actually big enough to hold Jaime's clothing! She does have a few extra unwanted roommates - the bane of NYC, la cucaracha!

Once the sidewalk was clear and I had been reinvigorated by some cold seltzer from the deli across the street, Frumpy, le Tom Tom and I began the trip back to Boston. Le Tom Tom done me wrong - and steered me right back into the 40 mpm traffic - apparently le Tom Tom believes that the GW bridge is the ONLY way out of Manhattan. Still, looking at the stall and crawl traffic on the other possible routes made me realize I should just keep inching along like an escargot. Once I hit the state line to Connecticut, the driving was easy.

UNTIL I hit the NEXT hurdle. On the Mass turnpike, we have "Fast Lane" which allows travellers to get a transponder so they don't have to stop at the toll booth - they just drive through specially designated lanes. I'd often wondered (aloud) why many of the toll booths were arranged with the fast lanes on the right with the cash lanes on the left, because the cash drivers stopped while the fast lane drivers don't. The BIG KAHUNA of tollbooths on the Mass Pike is the Newton/128 tollbooth - and last time I was on the Mass Pike in bound it had the fast lanes on the right and the cash lanes on the left. Naturally, I carefully arranged to be in the left lanes as I approached the toll booths in heavy traffic. Then I noticed the signs indicating that they had reversed the lanes. It was total chaos - cars were driving sideways, people begging, pleading and cursing. Since I noticed early on, I was able to slip Frumpy in front of a very large truck in one of the cash lanes. Then, there was nothing to do but wait, and wait, and wait. It took over an hour to get through the toll! I made the best of it, and paid the toll for the trucker behind me. The toll collector was TOTALLY bewildered! Made my night, anyway. I got home to a happy husband, dog and cats around 9pm - 12 hours!

Happy Birthday, Julia Child!

In honor of Julia Child's birthday on Saturday, Don, Audrey, Jim and I had a celebratory dinner. Interspersed with helping Jaime prepare for her big move to New York City, and a good-bye barbecue at a friends, Jim and I teamed up to prepare two of my Dad's recipes, Risotto al Fresci Fungi and Tarte Tatin. Of course, with the kitchen in utter chaos (even more than usual), coupled with the facts that I should have done some prep work the night before (not realizing the Tarte Tatin pastry needed to chill for several hours) and that Jaime needed a ride to her barbecue, it made for some serious craziness with both Jim and I stirring frantically!
I am so grateful to my better half, who peeled and chopped apples, zested and juiced lemons, and stirred risotto. I could not have done it without him! He even ate some of the Tarte Tatin (as he said, he was invested in it!)
While preparing the tarte tatin pastry (which i stuffed in the freezer to *enhance* the chilling effect and then had to microwave to roll out!), I whipped up a blueberry buttermilk bundt cake (courtesy of for Jaime's barbecue, which smelled exquisite.

In the rush, I did not take a step in preparing the tarte tatin that I should have - my Dad specifically warned about drying the apples before using. As a consequence, the oven and much of the kitchen was covered with apple juice, and I was sucking out tremendous amounts of extra fluid with a turkey baster. I had serious, serious, doubts as to the success of the Tarte Tatin. Intrepidly, Jim and I forged on and drove to Somerville at the appointed time with the still steaming risotto and the just-out-of-the-oven-and-not-yet-inverted Tarte Tatin in the big old cast iron frying pan.

The chefs and chefesses calmed themselves with glasses of wine and a delicious swiss chard appetizer provided by the hosts, Don and Audrey.

Once so fortified, I girded my loins and went to attempt to invert the tarte. To my utter surprise and delight, it emerged intact and even somewhat attractive! (Later we would find it was tasty as well.)

Audrey and Don provided a lovely salade (as my dad would say), fresh green beans, and a beautiful (and succulent) pork sirloin "en croute" that the risotto accompanied.

A toast was made to Julia - long may she wave! And a good meal was had by all.

Going to Seed

A precursor to the coming harvest time is the start of going to seed (including bearing fruit.) Although some plants are still flowering, more than a few of our local plants are flaunting their productivity - seen on our most recent "pack walk!"

Restaurant Week Summer 2009

This year, we set our sights on Gaslight, a French bistro in the South End. We travelled across Boston to Harrison Ave, a recently gentrified area of the South End near the Theater district. Gaslight has abundant, FREE parking - in the South End that is like rubies! While real French bistros in France don't really resemble Gaslight (they are more like caves!) the decor was quite evocative of France in an earlier era. The food was very authentic, and a very nice touch was a loaf of hot french bread in a paper sleeve delivered to the table (sorry, no photo, consumed before the camera made it out of its neoprene nest!)

Ciel and Jaime ordered from the Restaurant Week menu, and I splurged for (what else?) l'escargots. Aside from my little arthropod friends, we feasted on heirloom tomato salad, striped bass (always a good local bet) and the ubiquitous French roast chicken - then dessert!

At one point in the feasting, someone at a neighboring table ordered some VERY stinky cheese. Jaime amused us all with her "oh dear god what died at the next table" face.

And for dessert, Jaime ordered a delicious chocolate mousse with perhaps one of the worst presentations in the history of the world. Any pet owner or parent will know exactly what we mean!

It did taste good, and the other desserts LOOKED good as well! We'll be heading back to Gaslight soon.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Birthday Bouquets

Another year older - it seems like time is a runaway freight train whistling down the tracks sometimes. Since my birthday was a few days before the first anniversary of my mother's death, I felt pretty subdued. I was grateful to friends and family for commemorative gifts (and in one case, an ode!)

A highlight was a lily and iris bouquet from Alex & Michael - and a dinner out at Tupelo with the Cambridge-ites (one soon to go off to the Big Apple and the next chapter of her life, another two to begin an exciting new chapter in their lives!)

I have to wonder what will happen in my next chapter? Sometimes I think it's like Harry Potter - the series is done, and I feel empty and flat - a little hard to enjoy the movies now. Time for re-invention!

In the meantime, life goes on, and there's still time to share a pedicure with the blooming Ciel, and photograph the flowers. . . .

Monday, August 3, 2009

The Dog(gie) Days of Summer

On weekends, our canine entertainment trail frequently leads to the nearby Harvard Divinity School, and the not so nearby, recently constructed Neville Manor park (which features a huge butterfly meadow and community gardens.) The weather this weekend, although gloomy, hot and humid, allowed for several weekend perambulations off and on.

Bonnie decided that the best way to cool down in the August heat was to lie in a large puddle left by the torrential rainstorms that interspersed our outings.
We discovered that the flowers of spring and early summer had given way to the flowers, berries and squash of late summer, heralding the harvest soon to come our way via the Farm School CSA (we're already getting squash and blueberries galore!) The echinecea (pink and orange flowers below) are over 6 feet tall!

Some of the flowers had visitors.

Bonnie gave the seal of approval on our last walk of the weekend with a big doggie grin. Little did she know it was back to work for the humans! :( At least work is air conditioned.