Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Holiday Cards - Charitable and Fun

The past couple of years I have been terrible about sending holiday cards.  In law school I had a good streak going.  I was able to find some cute cards that were worth sending out in mass quantities, but then when I moved (yes, four years ago now), I just could not get my act together and it stuck.

However, this year I got an email from Dana-Farber regarding their Holiday Cards that sponsor the Jimmy Fund.  Since I have donated money to friends running the marathon for Dana-Farber and I work here, I got this email about 10 times, in every email account I have.  I must say though, the mass number of emails finally got me to click in and take a peak at the cards.

There were heaps of fun greeting cards...photographs and drawings of notable Boston locations as well as other winter holiday basics like Christmas trees and Menorahs.  If those were not enough, they also made some of the drawings done by children receiving their cancer treatments into cards as well!  Those can be saved for those you would like to make cry. 

With all the various options, I decided to go with a duckling theme.
Christmas Duck Holiday Card
That choice is probably because I have a slight obsession with the ducklings.  They are such a great feature of Boston and the Public Gardens in particular.  Anybody I know who is having a baby gets Make Way for Ducklings by Robert McCloskey for their baby shower.  Also, if a friend comes to town and somehow made it through their childhood without reading that story, they will find themselves with a copy soon after leaving!

The city of Boston or the Friends of the Public Garden (not sure who is responsible) does a great job of dressing up the ducklings for the various holidays throughout the year.  In the winter, they have little red bows tied around their necks that actually hold up pretty well against the elements, whether its the snow and ice or the children crawling over them.
Fancy Dress Holiday Card
Regardless, cute holiday cards that actually help a charity (good holiday karma doesn't hurt), where the charitable donation noted on the card (so the receiver knows you did some good!) seemed too perfect to pass up.

This is my year to get back on the holiday card wagon...now I just have to dig up street addresses, which could be more difficult than it sounds.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Brunch at Towne

Having done enough cooking and eating of Thanksgiving foods over the past couple days, this morning we decided to head out to brunch.  My brother was in town for the holiday weekend, so we were forced to come up with something a bit creative.  Originally we were thinking the Friendly Toast, but our group really could not get our acts together fast enough and I did not want to wait in line for hours.  With the Friendly Toast you never know how long the wait could be.

We decided to go to Towne Stove and Spirits...yes it is on the Burger List, but the burger was not on the brunch menu and there was already plenty to choose from without adding to the list.  Towne is the new restaurant by Jasper White and Lydia Shire, two of Bostons main names in the industry.  The impressive menu reflects each of their indiviudal styles while all fitting together.  I am still not really sure why the two of them got together to do a restaurant, but I am happy they did. 
My only other time going to Towne was just for drinks.  Even then I stayed in the front bar and not until I had to go to the bathroom did I realize that the restaurant was huge with two other bars!  Today we sat on the second floor, which is really bright and welcoming.  The table settings were fun, rather than traditional water glasses, they had beakers...and being the science geek that I am, I thought they were cool.  Also, the salt and pepper grinders had a valve like top, which again is just a bit different to set them apart from other restaurants.

Towne table setting with beaker water glasses
While we were waiting for our food they brought out some home made glazed donut holes that were really light and delicious as well as a lemon poppy bread that was tasty, but the crust was a bit dry, almost over done.  For the main course, my brother and I went with more of the traditional breakfast items...Reed got a fried poached egg over a minute skirt steak that looked delicious.  Not quite sure how you would deep fry a poached egg considering I have enough trouble getting them to come out of the pot still in one piece...but they did and it had a good fried crust.

Poached egg and skirt steak
The side for the dish was a creamed spinach with curried croutons.  I got the chicken and waffles, with grits and bacon and Tabasco for flavor, basically it was a little bit of everything. 

Chicken and waffles
When my meal came out I was excited to see a cute little bottle of Tabasco tucked in the waffle!  So fun!  The fried chicken was plenty moist with a really good crispy crust.  The one thing I wish I had a side of syrup.  There was only a bit on each of the waffles and it had a really nice flavor so I wanted to pour some more on there.  I should have asked, oh well!

Nick went with the curry chicken salad, which looked pretty good.  Although, any sort of chicken salad is something I would definitely NOT order as I don't do mayonnaise...but, the presentation was impressive and he said it was tasty:)

Curry Chicken Salad
Overall, is was a delicious meal and I am still looking forward to trying their burger!  The presentation of everything from the table setting itself to the food had some real thought put into it, which separated it from other restaurants and make me remember that it was special.

Towne Stove & Spirits on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

200 Butter Cookies!

So maybe I underestimated what really going for it meant.  My mom was a bit more involved in the cookie process than I remember.  I guess I was not the dedicated helper that I remember.  This was a three day process...Saturday was making the cookie dough, Monday was rolling the dough out and cutting it into 200 fall appropriate shapes and Tuesday was frosting and decorating with sprinkles of a fall variety.

I thought I had a turkey cutter from last year, but that disappeared back to my mom's house.  Of course that was not realized until every turkey cookie cutter was sold out in the city.  Magically, Nick came back with some other fall themed ones, like a pumpkin, acorn and a squirrel.  The squirrel, however, turned out to be very difficult, his little hands and feet were so small and narrow, it made it difficult to cut out in one piece.  Eventually we were able borrowed a turkey, so our Thanksgiving/fall theme was complete.  

The Cookie Cutters

Sunday, November 21, 2010

The Kitchen Aid Mixer and The Butter Cookies

I grew up in a house where each Christmas my brother and I "helped" make butter cookies.  We looked forward to the process of every year; making the dough, waiting for it to chill (hours seemed like days), cutting the cookies (the angel from 1930 was my favorite), frosting them and adding just the right amount of sprinkles.  One year (after college...yes I was in my 20's) my mom actually did not make the cookies and Christmas was just not the same.  We took the butter cookie tradition very seriously. 

Eventually, butter cookies were made for all sorts of holidays, whichever we had the cookie cutters for.  We always made the cookies with an electric hand mixer, licking the mixers when we were done.  We never used a Kitchen Aid mixer, we never had one.  Over time, I became a bit stuck in my ways (shocking, I know) and on principle used a pastry blender, fork, or an electric hand mixer when baking.  Nothing more...

When Nick moved in, he brought along his Kitchen Aid mixer and, I do not have an electric hand mixer here.  This Thanksgiving, my mother asked me to make the butter cookies as a dessert.  To make the dough, you need to mix in a pound of butter (when you double the recipe, but I figure if you are going for it, you really need to go for it).  To mix a pound of butter by hand it would take some time and a LOT of elbow grease.  So I decided to break down and use the Kitchen Aid mixer...

All Ingredients Added
The results were AMAZING...sadly, I am a convert.  I know, I caved pretty quickly.  The mixer made swift work of the dough.  At one point though, I thought I might be killing the motor because the dough is pretty thick and the mixer slowed down a bit, but the Kitchen Aid powered through.

Working its magic!

All Wrapped Up
I will post the finished product after they have been fully decorated in a Thanksgiving way!

Everything worked so well that afterward, I made brownies with the Kitchen Aid mixer, which clearly could have been made stirring with a wooden spoon.  Again though, the batter, made from scratch, blended together faster than I could have done with my old school ways...

My one Kitchen Aid caveat, since I still have the smallest Beacon Hill kitchen, the Mixer spends most of its time in the storage under the stairs.  Unless I have pretty thick batter to make (like the butter cookies), I will probably stick with traditional methods like a spoon, a fork or a pastry blender.  However, when I get my big kid house and the Mixer can sit out on the counter, and not take up a precious amount of counter space, I will use it for everything under the sun I am sure!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Met Back Bay

Nick and I have been making an effort to try all of those restaurants that you randomly think about, but rarely follow through on...such an effort in fact, we have made a list, that just keeps getting longer...not much is getting crossed off.

Last night we decided to try Met Back Bay (www.metbackbay.com), which only recently opened.  The restaurant has two other locations, one in Chestnut Hill and the other in Dedham.  This one is located where the old Joe's American Bar and Grill used to be, on the corner of Newbury and Dartmouth and, in my humble opinion, has one of the nicest outdoor eating areas in the summer time.  It seemed like they were renovating the space forever for Met, which seemed strange as it was a restaurant beforehand, how much would it really need??  The answer is A LOT, because they have completely transformed the space...where Joe's had dark wood everywhere with an older feel, Met Back Bay is light and bright with camel and orange leather accents.

Pictures of the interior from the Met Back Bay website
The space is clean and contemporary, but somehow maintains that warm feeling.  If you did not know if took over the old Joe's, you would have NO idea you were in the same building!

The Met menu had some really nice choices on it, with a fairly good price point.  Definitely on the more expensive side, but some fun cocktails and a nice range food, with lots of different appetizers you may not be able to order everywhere else.  Rather than roles, of which they have a couple of different varieties for appetizers, Met serves hard sesame breadsticks with a soft cheese spread, that really set the tone for the yummy food to come.  For a drink I got the Mayflower, which was a delicious mix of Belvedere, St. Germain, Chambord and Cranberry.  It wasn't too sweet or too tart.  Nick and I did not get any appetizers because we spied some apple cider donuts with a vanilla creme on the dessert menu that we knew we would want to try.  For the main course I got the steak tips.

Kobe Steak Tips Cipollini Onions / Jalapenos
What they do not tell you on the menu is they come with creamy mashed potatoes and mushrooms, that really make the dish feel complete.  The jalapenos, which were also in the sauce (I think), added a lot of spice to the dish, but not too much.  Really, for lack of a better phrase, the jalapenos kicked the dish up a notch.  They provided a nice flavor, different from what you normally would receive.  Since I did not think the dish came with anything other than steak, I ordered the truffle fries, because, who really can resist those.  Of course, they were great, because to be honest, I have not met a truffle fry (or anything with truffle) that I have not fully enjoyed.  Nick got the lobster pot pie, which I was a bit suspect of, because it seems like an at home meal to me...
Truffle French Fries (front) and Lobster Pot Pie (back)
But it again was amazing.  It really tasted like it was a lobster bisque soup served with a crusty top.  The number of massive chunks of lobster in the pie was impressive.  I think there were whole claws in there!  Much more than we certainly expected based on the price point ($24).  For dessert we had the apple cider donuts that were good, but both of us are used to the farm stand kind on the North Shore (Russell Orchard in Ipswich or Smolack Farm in North Andover).  The texture of the Met donuts were not as good, to us, ad the farm stand variety.  However, the vanilla creme was a lovely addition you cannot get at the farm stand!

At some point during the meal, we realized that this was really one of the better meals we have had in a long time.  The food may seem somewhat basic, but Met twists it just enough to add some surprise while maintaining that flavor you are used to.  We made reservations and sat in the main restaurant.  While there was a burger on the menu, I did notice the bar has its own burger bar menu, so I saved it...hard to believe I could!  So Met Back Bay may have to added to the burger list, because if our dinner is any indication of the burger, it should be a contender!

Met Back Bay on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Hunger Games

I will start this post out fully admitting that some of my "likes" tend to read like a list of a 14 year old girl.  Big fan of Harry Potter, Twilight, the shows on the WB (RIP) and now the CW.  A little teenage angst for me goes a long way.  I jumped on the Twilight bandwagon pretty far into the game.  The movie had started filming, but it was before it was the number one news story...everywhere.

Recently, Entertainment Weekly started talking about this other series, The Hunger Games Trilogy.  With the recent release of the third and final book, it was popping up in some lists, but it is not yet a top 10 bestseller.  I saw that were looking to cast a movie version of this book, and decided to give the series a go.  I wanted to be able to say I knew of the series way back when:)

The covers are deceptive, as they look more advanced and not the cover of a young adult novel and since they are not as well known as Twilight etc, I felt a bit better about breaking the books out on the T.  Also, Nick admitted that he actually read the synopsis of Mockingjay a few times because the cover is so unique and it was featured on Entertainment Weekly!  But he did NOT read it, I repeat did NOT.

The Hunger Games is the first in the series...

The story is of a Capitol that controls 12 Districts in some post apocalyptic era.  To reaffirm it's control, each year the Capitol holds what it calls the Hunger Games.  The Games involve a boy and a girl between the ages of 11 and 18, from each of the Districts who compete to the death.  The last person standing is declared the victor.  I guess that this premise is similar to Battle Royale as well as some others books and movies that I was not completely aware of.  Regardless, I was hooked.  This went from being my mindless T reading to taking over my life...skipping my favorite TV shows to go to bed early to read.  Nick loved it...(note the sarcasm here).

The day I finished the first book (the morning T ride meaning I had nothing for the ride back), I got a coupon from Border's for 40% off the second novel.  I thought by this point it would be in paperback and I would get it for 2 dollars...nope ALL hardcover. 

Regardless, I picked it up and went to a meeting at the Beehive.  I thought I was going to be a half hour early and would be able to dive right in, but other girls were already there, so no such luck...Yes, I was going to be THAT girl in the bar for this book.  I will not go into details about the plot because I do not want to spoil anything, but needless to say, the same patterned continued and I devoured this book.  I actually was conscience of what I was doing so tried to stay away, but was having trouble....

Shortly after the second book, I was on to the third, Mockingjay

I loved it...There were a few moments where I actually spoke out loud to the book, saying things like "I can NOT believe they did that" or "NO WAY."  Luckily, the third book is the final book in the series, and it is able to wind everything up well...definitely not a neat little bow, but gives you enough to move on, or so I thought...

A couple of days later, I was actually missing the book.  On more than one occasion, I was wondering what would happen next in the lives of the characters.  Now I am left to watch/read about the development of the movie on the series, and only hope they can do it justice.  To be sure, I will be one of those people criticizing everything, including the casting decisions for each character.  Much like those who hated the thought of Robert Pattinson as Edward in Twilight, and look how that turned out!

Monday, November 15, 2010

The Burger and The Book Fair (quite the combo)

I guess all the burger talk on Friday inspired me to set some weekend plans around getting on top of the list and go to one of the must try locations!

On Sunday, I decided to geek out and drag Nick to the Boston Book Fair at the Hynes Convention Center.  Not that Nick doesn't like books (and he willingly came), but this definitely pushes the envelop of things to do on a lazy Sunday!  When asking, I lumped this in with going to the Back Bay Social Club for their burger as it is right next door...Perfect.

Back Bay Social Club (http://www.backbaysocialclub.com) is relatively new, and out of nowhere, became an "it" place to be.  The restaurant had a pretty good reputation within a few days of opening...helping that reputation was The Social Club Burger.  The restaurant was fairly busy for an early Sunday afternoon, but we had no problem sitting at the bar to watch football and indulge in burger comparisons.  However, we almost changed our plan because their brunch menu looked tempting...enough so, that before we ordered, we knew we had to go back to try it!

Nick and I both ordered the burger medium rare...their standard burger comes with a sharp cheddar and caramelized onions.  I am a bit of a picky eater (some may say that is an understatement) and onions and I have a love hate relationship, but I went for it...I wanted to have the full effect...Thank goodness I did!

My Burger
Nick's burger (lighting was a bit weird)
The burgers were amazing...the amount of burger meat on these...they are huge!!!  While you are trying to work your way through the burger, enjoying every moment, you realize that its a good thing the patty is so large, otherwise, it may get dwarfed by cheese and onion toppings.  The meat is dry aged, juicy and delicious.  I thought that the onions would add to much fuss to the flavor, but instead it was the perfect accent.

Nick admitted quickly that this might top his top Sel de la Terre burger, and I decided I need to go back to Moooo...to compare. 

After we indulged, we headed to the Hynes Convention Center to the Antiquarian Book Fair (www.bostonbookfair.com). One of my favorite books is Pride and Prejudice, and after getting my Grandmother's copy of the book from ages ago, which I learned the hard way is NOT to be read for fear of breaking the binding further, I now try to buy unique copies of the book.  The other copy I own is a soft leather bound book from 1913 that I got in Hay-on-Wye, Wales.  This was a stop on my horse back riding expedition in 2009.  Turns out, Hay-on-Wye is a famous (antiquarian) book town...who knew such towns even existed.

In Hay-on-Wye May 2009
Hay was filled with second hand book shops, attended by friendly people ready to find me a copy of Pride and Prejudice that was worth dragging inn-to-inn...The copy I bought was maybe 30 dollars...

We lucked out at the fair because someone gave complimentary passes for the afternoon (saving us a grand total of 16 dollars!)

Free Pass and Guide
You have to check basically everything you own before being allowed to enter the massive room, filled with what seemed like hundreds of stalls of books from collectors/sellers from across the globe.  With no particular goal in mind (other than finding Pride and Prejudice) we set about browsing the various stalls...

I have never felt dumber in my entire life!  

Nick and I are pretty smart people (or at least I believe so) who can hold our own in most areas of conversation.  These people were speaking a foreign language...but rightly so!  Some of the books were worth 10,000 dollars!  This takes loving books to a whole other level.  There were first editions of all sorts of books, Lord of the Rings Trilogy, Darwin's Letter's, Oscar Wilde, Dr. Seuss books...plus, a number of signed copies of these books.  There were so children books, it was incredible...further, they were selling the signed illustrations separately.  Where else could you hear someone admit they are in book binding school, I did not know those existed!  Most of the vendors also had maps from all over dating back as far as the 1600's.  The colors were so well preserved and all had unique markings.  No idea those went hand-in-hand, but it does make sense.

However, book dealers do have their priorities correct, because tucked into the back of the ballroom was a fully decked-out bar with cocktail tables for people to sit and chat.

The second hand book market is really like collecting coins or stamps, you don't ever read them, they are merely to look at, trade, and sell...

I found a copy of Pride and Prejudice, it was a hard cover from 1913 and lovely, however, it would have been about 350 dollars, which, actually seemed normal after walking through those halls for 2 hours.  I thought better of it though, and had to leave shortly thereafter because I kept thinking about buying it!  Part of the convention included free appraisals for books and after walking through there, I wish I had brought my copy of Pride and Prejudice from Hay, because I could be sitting on one of those amazing yard sale finds!

Back Bay Social Club on Urbanspoon

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Ode to the Burger

When I comment on most restaurants, the first thing I discuss is whether they have good cheeseburgers there...to the point where it have become a bit of a joke.  For me, burgers are on the top of my list of deserted island foods.  With burgers becoming more of an art form and the higher class restaurants vying for the best burger, it has become a fun comparison and reason enough to go out especially for a burger.  Although, in my book you really never need a reason....

My first best burger was at the Bristol Lounge at the Four Seasons Hotel.

They were this mythical thing that I had been hearing about but never was bold enough to walk in, sit and order the 20 dollar burger, but finally for my birthday a friend took me and it was AMAZING!  It really was a whole new burger experience....I know I am a bit crazy...

People have tried to tempt me with others, Sel de la Terre for instance, Nick thinks they have the best burger, but really it just did not seem to top the Bristol Burger.

Recently though, the Bristol Burger has been moved to second place by the burger at Mooo.....on a random rainy Sunday Nick and I went and it was amazing.  Can't hurt that I love all things Mooo.... in general (it took all the old gentleman's club steak houses and flipped it on it's head with contemporary and sleek finishes), but I was really surprised how much I loved their burger.  I could not believe that I actually found one I like more than the Bristol!

So now, based on the lists in Boston Magazine and on Boston.com (http://www.boston.com/ae/restaurants/gallery/localburgers/) I have a high priced burger list...

Back Bay Social Club

Craigie on Main - (only available in the bar, not the main dining room)

KO Prime



I want to compare them all and decide which is the best burger...but really, after having the burger at Mooo....they have their work cut out for them, because that one was amazing....

To end though, if you are in the mood for a cheap burger, five guys is totally the way to go...and they are finally getting closer to Boston!!!

Now that I am sufficiently hungry and it is only 10:30AM...good luck to me!

Monday, November 8, 2010

The Esplanade

I only recently realized how lucky I am to live right by the Esplanade in Boston...I quick walk and I am standing right along the Charles.  This weekend I went for a run, pretending I was just like all those other crazy people I have been seeing over the years.  I dread going for runs, for me they are one of they worst 30 to 40 minutes periods, but the feeling afterwards really does make it all worth it.

The Esplanade however, makes the process so much easier, the views are amazing (both Boston and Cambridge), plenty of good people watching, crossing the bridges provides just enough of a "hill" to push you that much more, and the breeze (or gusts this weekend) coming off the water cools you off so nicely!

View from the Longfellow Bridge
Holly has been taking advantage of my "new" find as well...she can be let off the leash without worry that a park ranger is going to end all the fun.  While I am sure some other dogs would be going straight for the water, Holly is (luckily) still a bit unsure.  She just investigates a bit...the waves this weekend were a bit to big even for that!

Holly thinking park benches are for her...
Time may be running short this season for more Esplanade fun, but I am looking forward to taking full advantage next spring!

Thursday, November 4, 2010


Basically, I have been following and reading lots of blogs lately and wondering if it is something I could do AND keep up with.  People who have known me for any length of time know that writing is not my strength....but I figured why not give it a go and see what happens....

My plan is just to write about the random goings on in my life...as a patent attorney who lives in Beacon Hill, with her boyfriend and a princess of a dog (my fault I know), who wants to try different things and document it.  I am really a fashion and pop-culture junkie who loves to read, travel, attempt to cook (but really try new restaurants), and other very random things.  So who really knows where this will lead.

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