Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Day Three: Durham, NC to Knoxville, TN

Woke up in a Days Inn and threw open the curtains to see a beautiful parking lot and a slightly dingy Waffle House. It was time to move. We headed west on I-40 through Winston-Salem, then took a scenic highway, 421, into the Pisgah National Forest. We drove through small towns, including Daniel Boone’s birthplace. We stopped to take a hike at Sugar Mountain, a ski resort small hill with a chairlift on it. We hiked about halfway up before the slight drizzle turned into a deluge. We ran down the mountain and back to the car. 
 We continued driving through the national forest, passing caverns, antique stores, country farm stands, and a few dead animals. A sign for cider and pie triggered a sharp turn off the highway. We walked into the hidden gem of all roadside stores, Linville River Mercantile in Linville, NC. A couple greeted us and let us know what they had to offer; home baked pies, apple butter, and jam, they were even honored for homemade goods in North Carolina. After perusing the selections, we settled on a slice of banana cream cake. We ate at the small counter and chatted with the owner about his business and our trip. After getting our fill of sugary Southern hospitality we got back on the road, next stop: Asheville.
 Asheville, NC is known as Beer City USA, it has won the award for the past two years, beating out Portland, my home town. The two are apparently competitors in the world of microbrews. I was not disheartened by the eagerness of people to point out Portland’s loss, the pervasive hometown pride was endearing. We popped into Bruisin’ Ales, a store selling over 800 types of beer. Our cooler wasn’t empty, but we couldn’t pass up this opportunity to try unique brews. When in Rome? We spent a good while in the small store reading labels and chatting with the guy manning the store. He gave us some great recommendations of local brews to add to our collection as well as a perfect spot for a dinner that would be on the healthier side, after our lunch of banana cake we were craving some nutrients.

We left the store with a custom six-pack of beers, a T-shirt for Joey and a map of downtown Asheville. For the next two hours, we walked the streets, hopped into stores, boutiques and strolled in the park. A collection of street drummers congregated in a plaza playing percussion that echoed down the street. They were closer in age to my grandpa than to me, and it was great to see then having such a good time entertaining the crowds, although the woman dancing to her own beat seemed entirely oblivious of the people watching her.
The Jack of the Woods Pub was a short walk from the drummers and we stepped inside to sample some of the local goods. I had a Craggie Antebellum from the Craggie Brewery in Asheville. Joey ordered the French Broad Brewing Gateway Kolsch, also from Asheville.
The Craggie on the Left and the French Broad on the right
Jack of the Wood
The restaurant recommendation led us to the Laughing Seed, Revolutionary Vegetarian. Our meal was phenomenal and the perfect recommendation because we both admitted that we would not have chosen this restaurant on our own. For an appetizer we ordered the sweet potato dumplings; a mixture of sweet potato and spices in crispy wonton wrappers and topped with an Asian sesame sauce. We were starving, and the crunchy, soft combination of the dumplings hit the spot. I am a sucker for Asian dressings with sesame flavors. 

For entrees we shared two dishes, the first an Asian salad with lettuce, veggies and wheat soba noodles in a peanut sauce. The second dish was one of the house specialties, the Indian plate. It came with lentil curry, and spiced mixture of veggies, including okra, brown rice, wheat naan, pickled vegetables and a spicy compote. I loved the infusion of southern flavors into the Indian dish. This was my first time eating okra and I loved it in it’s Indian clothing. 
The meal left us perfectly satisfied and happy that we experienced some cool offerings of Asheville. This town surprised me, I was not expecting to find this enclave of hippie culture in Southwest North Carolina.
After dinner we moseyed back to the car and drove for a few more hours, ending up at Knoxville for the night. We crossed the 1000 mile mark at 8:24 pm, a big moment.
Total mile count: 1,109

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Atlantic to Pacific Road Trip Begins

 Graduation is over, there are no caps to throw, toasts to make, classes to take, or essays to write. My job is lingering out in the distance, it’s an elusive little devil, sometimes coming into view for a minute then disappearing into fuzzy static. So for the time being all I can do is go home to Portland, Oregon, by way of the South.
Joey, my boyfriend and mysterious background to many pictures on this blog, is my travel companion. We were armed and dangerous with a GPS, a bucket full of snacks, some Sherlock Holmes books on tape, and a case of Red Bulls.
The agenda for day one was pretty simple: drive as far south on I-95 as possible. We made it from Cambridge, MA to Alexandria, VA. Somehow we passed through seven states on our way down, (Massachusetts, Connecticut, Delaware, New Jersey, New York, Maryland, Virginia,) starting our cross country trip out right. 
Gardens at Chatham Plantation

Day two we began the day by walking through Alexandria to a breakfast place recommended by our motel manager, Extra Perks. We walked through the humidity, to iced coffees and breakfast sandwiches. The streets of Alexandria seemed like Pleasantville, pristine and almost fake looking.
We drove south to Fredericksburg to check out some Civil War history. We walked around the Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park. Our walk was short around the battlefield, yet somehow we were sweating bullets. The 100 degree heat and humidity was wearing. We went to Chatham Estate, the only house visited by both George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. It was an old plantation and had some great history as a crucial spot for medical services during the war. We got our first dose of Southern friendliness, the man at the Estate would have talked and joked with us all morning if we had let him. After wandering around the grounds and accumulating another respectable layer of sweat, we drove into the historic downtown Fredericksburg. There were many cute shops, restaurants, murals, Civil War memorabilia shops, and about 900 hair salons. Joey felt it appropriate to get a haircut. The heat drove us to choose lunch at a frozen yogurt shop. We visited a wine shop and picked up a few locally brewed beers to enjoy later on our journey. 

Cute streets of Fredericksburg
 We left Fredericksburg and continued south. We made it to Durham, NC in the evening and drove straight to the Sarah P. Duke gardens on the Duke campus. The gardens are famous and beautifully maintained. Pathways wind through areas of grassy hills, stone plazas, ponds, flower beds, and forest. We strolled around, enjoying the comfortable evening warmth, then parked on a bench above the pond and had a beer picnic. 
Pond at the gardens.
Never go for a half nelson when you can go for a full nelson.
Leftover beers from grad party, thanks dad!
After a long day out in the heat, it felt so great to savor some brews in the fresh air. First was a Full Nelson Virginia Pale Ale from the Blue Mountain Brewing in Afton, Virginia. It was richer than an average pale ale and had some spicy undertones. The second was a Hop Devil IPA from Victory Brewing. This was an IPA that had "serious drinkability", according to Joey, meaning that it wasn't so heavy that you can only stomach one. We stayed there until hunger was clawing its way to the surface.  We squelched that uprising by driving immediately to a Waffle House close by. My dad informed me that the Waffle House chain is an institution of the South and a must-visit on our trip. 
 Two waffles, and one plate of grits and eggs later, we were full and happy and grateful to my dad for the recommendation. In the process we got the life story of the man making our food and were greeted with impressive hospitality by the three members of the Waffle House staff. I love the South.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Clink at the Liberty Hotel and a Diploma

My whirlwind week is over. I have not showered since Sunday and I have nothing on the agenda besides seeing my roommates before I move out of my house. This past weekend was jam packed full of events, family, friends, food, and drinks. I now have a diploma with my name on it in a fancy folder, funny that this small piece of paper is what I came to this place four years ago to get. Now I have it. Now what do I do?
 The weekend was amazing, but one high-light was dinner with my family, grandpa, and family friend and brother Spencer's college roommate, Sam. We went to Clink at the Liberty Hotel in Beacon Hill. The Liberty is a renovated jail, and was open for business until the 1990s. Now it is a trendy hotel with bars and restaurants, all with prison-related names; Clink, Alibi, The Yard, The Cat Walk.
We came early to our reservation and hung out in the bar area of the lobby, admiring the old brick insides, and feeling a bit creeped out that these walls held prisoners not that long ago. We had a couple drinks then moved inside to our table.

 For starters we ordered a cheese plate, with four different types chosen by my sister, Isa, the family's resident cheese connoisseur. Each cheese came with a paired garnish such as sugared nuts, fruit compote, or honeycomb. We ate these with bread, plain and cinnamon raisin. We also ordered oysters from the raw bar. Homemade cocktail sauces, lemon, and Tabasco gave these some serious zing.
Before we even had a chance to order wine, a waitress came by giving samples of cocktails from their menu, of course we opted in. Spencer and I tried the Hot Mess, something akin to a dirty martini with a pickle floating around in it. My mom and Sam choose the Evolve, something more fruity with acai berry.
Holla for free samples!
 For salad, several ordered the burrata and beet salad with arugula. This dinner was turning into a cheese extravaganza, but there was just really nothing to be done about it. Burrata is a special cheese like a very fresh mozzerella with a firmer outside and a soft inside. Eaten with nuts, arugula, and red and yellow beets, it was heaven.
For my entree, I ordered the scallops in an appetizer portion, considering there had already been about four courses to this meal. The came with a sauteed butternut squash, fennel, and smoked salmon. The combination of flavors was perfect. The complexity of the squash, fennel and salmon mixture gave notes of smoke, spice and sweet, while the scallops were left plain and simple on top.
Spencer ordered the special leg of lamb dish while Isa went with the Salmon. No one was disappointed.
 Since it was a celebration, (all about me, don't forget it!) we had to order a couple of desserts. The apple and rhubarb cobbler with vanilla ice cream and the chocolate tart. These were great choices because everyone at the table got to try bites of rich, decadent chocolate and fresh fruit and cream without feeling stuffed to the gills.

We lingered over coffees, cappuccinos, and the last bites of the chocolate tart. We rested our stomachs and thought about the day ahead, packed full of speeches, and clapping, and pomp and circumstance. Clink was the perfect place to stop, relax, take a minute to just enjoy each other amongst the brouhaha.

215 Charles Street
Boston, MA

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Spicy Tomato Soup with Black Beans

In one week I will be moving out of my college house. This should be a good thing, this house is horrible. Let me list the reasons.
The dining room is unpainted and has awful splotches of spackle adorning the walls.
My kitchen cabinet is slowly falling off the wall and one day while I'm reaching for my rice cakes it's going to fall off and knock me out and then I'll have to tell everyone that I got concussion from a cabinet.
The radiators sounds like a train coming into the station and smell like old people.
My landlord and his friends "do construction" to "improve" the basement practically every weekend. I never knew home improvement smelled so much like marijuana...
There are so many reasons why I should be thankful that I'm getting the heck out. But I am not. This house is crappy, and dangerous, and impossible to keep clean, but I am dreading the day when I have to drive away.
Our leather couches with a sometimes questionable stickiness to them are the perfect size for me and my two roommates to curl up with our dinners and watch How I Met Your Mother and Cupcake Wars.  My dining room table and odd assortment of chairs is the best place for us to study watch youtube videos and talk and laugh without the silence and stigma of the library.
My kitchen is tiny but somehow we always end up there, chatting until we have to go to bed, and tiny suddenly seems like perfectly cozy.
Our paper thin walls just make it easier for us to yell to each other when we don't want to get out of bed. Privacy is overrated.
I am not ready to go. Next week will come, and I will have to face the music. In the spirit of moving, and cleaning out my pantry, I decided to whip up a steaming hot bowl of regret soup, using as many ingredients as I had on hand.

Spicy Tomato Soup with Black Beans
1 large can crushed tomatoes
1 small can green chilies
2 cups chicken broth
1 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon sea salt (I used unsalted tomatoes and low sodium broth so I needed this, but you may not depending on ingredients used.)
1 cup black beans

Heat tomatoes and broth over low heat. Stir in chilies and spices. Once hot, pour into two bowls and add 1/2 cup of beans to each bowl.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Playing Outside: Walden Pond, and Going Veggie at Clover Food Lab

 Last Friday the weather cooperated and gave Geneva and I the chance to head out and make a day of it. With no longer any good reason to go to the library, we drove out Route 2 to Walden Pond. I had never been and this was the perfect opportunity. 
We took the path around the pond and only saw a few other people on our way, a handful of walkers and a couple fishermen.
The sandy beach area was nearly empty, I would imagine the water was quite cold, but Geneva said that in the summer it is full of children.
After a relaxing flat "hike" around the pond, we decided it was time for lunch. On Geneva's recommendation, we took the T to Harvard to check out a new vegetarian spot called Clover Food Lab. Upon arrival I knew this was unlike most other dining establishments; there was no counter, simply two large menus on easels and staff members with iphones ready to take our order. The space was large and open with two floors and a high lofted ceiling. The kitchen area was open and people people were furiously preparing food behind a short wall. Apparently Clover was a food truck before they became grounded with an address. They traveled around trying out new recipes to figure out what worked and what didn't.
The menu was grouped into categories and by price. We ordered off of the 'Lunch $5' section. Next to each item the time is listed so customers can know how long their order will take. This could be extra efficient on a ten minute lunch break. Luckily, we had more time to spend, so we could walk around and look at the pots of fresh herbs on the tables and the parchment paper table cloths with crayons for diners to enjoy while eating.
 Geneva ordered the soy BLT, with soy bacon, tomato, lettuce, and mayo on a whole wheat pita. Hers was delicious; the soy bacon kept the integrity of the hearty, salty B in the BLT. I was definitely surprised by how good it was.
 I ordered the egg and eggplant, with hard-boiled eggs, grilled eggplant, cucumber salad, tomatoes, hummus, and yogurt dressing on a whole wheat pita. It was incredible. The eggs and eggplant gave the sandwich some heft, while the cucumber salad added a fresh crunch. The yogurt sauce was the element that tied it all together, making this vegetarian sandwich seem like a mediterranean specialty.
I would return to Clover Food Lab anytime, or everyday if worked nearby.
Low prices, healthy, fresh food, fun atmosphere, fast service; definitely a place where you leave feeling great about what you just ate.

Clover Food Lab
7 Holyoke Street
Harvard Square, Cambridge

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Bur-running in Somerville

 Every Monday at 6:45 the Somerville Road Runners has an event at the Burren in Davis Square. The event is a casual 5k fun-run that starts and ends and the Burren. The bar provides a back room for storage for bags and sweats and free food and water for all participants after the run.
How did I now know about this until now? My friend Sarah suggested that we try it out, and the first night that it worked out happened to be our last day of college classes, FOREVER. Sarah, Carrie, Kelly and I walked into the Burren with the intention to exercise. We may be familiar with the 90s cover band that plays at the Burren on Thursday nights, but never have we ever been there so early with the intention of burning calories doing something other than dancing.
Yes we are graduating, and yes we chose to celebrate the end of lectures and blue books with a 5k followed by Guiness beef stew and beers.
From top to bottom I would say it was a great choice.
The bar full of thirsty runners!
The running group was welcoming to all new participants and the atmosphere was fun and casual. It was a perfect night for taking a loop around the neighborhood. Running with a group helped motivate us to keep on keepin' on, but the four of us ran at a nice pace that allowed us to talk and not sound like we were drowning.
Afterwards we grabbed our sweats and headed immediately to the bar. Beers tasted great while we were sweaty and tired. The Burren had hot-pots full of veggie pasta and beer braised stew that provided just the post work-out salt kick that I needed.
 I liked the Bur-run so much that I returned the next week with Bailey. Another beautiful spring night for jogging. This time we didn't linger long because the Celtics were on and we wanted to make it home by half-time.
I whole-heartedly recommend the Somerville Road Runners event for any level of runner who wants to try running with a group. Bring a friend or go solo and you will have a great time.

The Burren
247 Elm Street
Davis Square

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Homemade Bagels

Oh hello little misshapen rings of dough. You may not be the perfect shape but to me, you are perfect. I can see the bagel potential just oozing out of your precious whole wheat pores.
 And there you are just boiling away. In my pot. Who would have thought this day would come when your dough was risen, and rested, and rested again? Who thought I would have had the patience to leave you under that dishcloth for so long?  Yet here you are, bubbling away on your way to bagely glory.
 Now, now, look who is all dressed up for the occasion! Look at you all covered in your finest Sunday pepper-jack cheese. Or you over there with your sweet outfit of cinnamon sugar. And you, you saucy little thing in your garlic, I see you playing hard to get.

 Whole Wheat Bagels with a Smorgasbord of Toppings
2 teaspoons active dry yeast
2 teaspoons sugar
1 cup warm water
2 teaspoons salt
2 1/4 cup whole wheat flour
1 egg for egg wash
cheese slices (I used pepper jack)
Minced garlic

Mix yeast, sugar, and water in a bowl and let bubble for 5 minutes. Stir in salt and flour with a fork until it starts to form into a ball. Flour hands and knead dough on floured surface for 5 minutes. Place it in a greased bowl in a warm place, covered for an hour. Divide dough into six balls and place under dishtowel for another 30 minutes. Form into rings and place rings in boiling water for 4 minutes, two minutes on each side. Once mostly dry, cover in egg wash and add toppings. Bake in 415 degree oven for 25 minutes.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Masa, Boston

My brother, Spencer, was visiting from New York and invited me to a birthday dinner with one of his friends. I love a birthday as much as the next girl and Masa in the South End was a perfect place for it.
I haven’t spent much time in the South End at all, and I’ve heard rave reviews about the restaurants and bars in that area so I was looking forward to it. 
Sangria+Margarita=Sangria Margarita
We showed up slightly late for our 8:30 reservation, (beers at Jerry Remy’s in Seaport proved to be an obstacle for us arriving on time,) but it was just as well because we weren’t seated until 9:30. Fortunately, it wasn’t a chore standing in the bar and hanging out with some of their creative drink options. The birthday boy suggested their margaritas, and it seemed to be their specialty because they had at least 10 varieties on the chalk board menu. Spencer tested his taste buds with the watermelon habanero margarita and I tried the sangria margarita. Spencer’s was definitely HOT with some serious afterburners. He said it prevented him from drinking it too fast, which often happens with fruity, delicious cocktails. Mine was an interesting fusion of Spanish/Mexican drinks. The margarita flavor definitely over powered the sangria, but it was worth a try.
After we were seated an hour after our reservation, the wait staff was very hospitable and brought tasting flights of various tequilas to the table. They explained each one with words like “high land” and “low land” and “anejo”; they even explained that one was aged for a year but NEVER longer. We were all happy that they did a lil’ something to make up for the wait, but none of us were tequila experts so we kind of just drank it down and wished we had a lime on the side. 
Arriba, el bajo, el centro, el dentro!
 On to the food, the menu was one of those where I felt like I could close my eyes and point and would have got something incredible. So many great options. I decided on the grilled guajillo swordfish steak with banana papaya mole, served with herb roasted purple potato wedges and tomatillo salsa. The fish was impressive, I would order this again any day, mercury intake be damned! The grilling created a crust with some spices that I could not particularly identify. But the fish was left very simple, which I like. The mole was sweet and smoky and added perfect balance to the crisp flavor of the salsa. I could not remember what the menu said, so I was licking the mole off my spoon and having no idea what it was. Other people tasted it as well and all said the same thing, “That’s great, but, what is it?” I checked the menu later and was excited that the sauce I loved so much was a banana papaya mole.  Fruit and fish, always a great pairing. 
 The purple potatoes were nestled underneath the fish, created a little landing pad for the steak, and they added a carby, crunch to the meal. I loved using them as vehicles for more mole sauce.
Spencer and about four other people at the table ordered the Negra Modelo braised pork shoulder with sauce borracha, port and fig jam, baby arugula, and garlic whipped potatoes. The waiter recommended this as the house specialty. They were not disappointed. I had a bite, and it was some of the best pork I’ve ever eaten, and pork is something I don’t normally go for on the menu. Spencer declared several times that he “could eat this with a spoon!” 

In both dishes there was a great balance of spicy and sweet. The fig jam and spicy sauce balanced out the pork in an interesting way with a true Southwestern flair.
I would definitely go back to Masa. There were so many good options, and everyone at the table was pleased with their order. This is a place to go when you want to see creative flavor combinations that will get the table talking. Everyone had something that surprised them, whether it was a stunning main dish, a unidentifiable sauce, or a cocktail blended with a pound of cucumber.
Highly recommended!

439 Tremont Street
Boston, MA

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Berry Breakfast Couscous

Oh hello, Spring.
 Sometimes you have a To-Do list and that To-Do list says you need to get to the library as soon as possible and write your last paper of your college career.
But there is no way to get to the library without having coffee and breakfast.
So then suddenly your To-Do list includes, ‘make coffee’, and ‘eat breakfast’.
And since it is simply a crime to try to write a paper or haul ones carcass to the library without a breakfast that is chock full of brain food, then your To-Do list suddenly includes ‘make delicious and mentally stimulating breakfast’.
And before you know it it’s 11:00 and instead of having your head down over your rough draft in a quiet corner of the library you’re hovering over a simmering pot of couscous.
But it’s okay because you were just trying to get to the library as fast as possible and it’s not your fault that breakfast is essential.
Keep slicing those strawberries.
You’re doing just fine. 
Berry Breakfast Couscous
1/3 cup whole wheat pearl couscous
¾ cup blueberries
1 cup strawberries cut any way that strikes your fancy
1 teaspoon brown sugar
cinnamon (I like several dashes, but I’m a fiend.)
small handful of almonds

Boil ¾ cup water on the stove, add couscous and simmer covered for about 8 minutes, or until all the water is absorbed. Stir in the cinnamon and brown sugar immediately and couscous will start to get creamy. Stir in berries and put in a bowl, top with almonds.
Dig in, and then go write your paper.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Quest for the perfect breakfast sandwich: True Grounds, Somerville

First of all, the café itself: True Grounds is what I like to think of as the “new face of Somerville”, the trendy coffee shops and laid back atmospheres that invite you to stay awhile, (but make you pay for refills so you don’t stay too long.) This past Sunday was a beautiful day and the door was wide open and people were lingering at the outdoor tables.
True Grounds is also a great option for weekends because the Somerville brunch scene can be kind of chaotic. If you’re not in the mood to stand in line for 30 minutes across the street at Soundbites or Ball Square Café, True Grounds is a great move.
 Now on to the sandwiches, Joey and I both knew we were ordering breakfast sandwiches before we even looked at the menu. So while the breakfast burrito offerings and bakery items could have been tempting, we were on a mission.
I ordered the scrambled egg ‘n’ cheese with spinach on a plain bagel and Joey got the scrambled egg ‘n’ cheese with bacon on a poppy bagel.
My immediate impression is that the bagel was fresh and of high quality. The outside was crunchy and the inside soft. The scrambled eggs were nice and fluffy yet managed to stay on the bagel for the most part. I threw a few chunks onto my shirt, but that can hardly be blamed on the sandwich. The cheese could have been more thoroughly melted. The spinach was a great addition, but I they could have mixed it into the eggs somehow. The spinach layer was quite thick, and just so…spinachy. I nonetheless enjoyed my sandwich greatly, the bagel was a great delivery system and the ingredients were quality.
Joey enjoyed his sandwich as well, he had a similar feeling about the bagel, two thumbs up.
I can almost feel my muscles getting bigger just looking at it.
Verdict: Reasonable prices, nice atmosphere, quality ingredients, breadth of offerings. I would definitely go back. (And maybe ask them to heat my sandwich for a tad longer.)   

717 Broadway- Ball Square