.comment-link {margin-left:.6em;}

Seven Hills

Boston-area exploration, travel notes, crafty things, and other Somervillainy.

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Good Things, Edwardian Style

It was a Memorial Day weekend afternoon, and we were headed out to get sandwiches and eat them in the park. For once, it occurred to me in advance that the ground might still be wet from recent days of rain. Carrying along an entire blanket sounded too cumbersome though - this was just supposed to be sandwiches in the park, not a big picnic production.

And then it came to me in a flash of inspiration. Not something I'd read in Martha Stewart Living, but a line of dialogue from "A Room With a View":

Observe my foresight. I never venture forth without my Mackintosh squares. At any time, one may have to sit on damp ground or cold marble.

That Eleanor Lavish, always prepared! A few remnants of oilcloth stood in for the Mackintosh (rubberized cloth), and were swiftly cut into squares and tucked neatly into my bag. The perfect solution to the problem of Soggy Park-Butt ... provided you can get past the dorkiness of sitting on bottom-tailored squares of bright red strawberry-printed plastic.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

And Then There's Santarpio's

I sat down thinking I wanted to write something about the pizza I had this weekend, but I think what I actually feel like doing is eating that pizza. Right now, and always. Lots of it, every day for the rest of my life.

Emma's (subject of my previous entry) has lots of charm, and I'm thrilled to have it as a neighborhood place. But then there's Santarpio's.

It seems like I've heard about Santarpio's a lot in the last year, though I never used to, and then I finally noticed that we drive right past it every time we go to Logan Airport. And, true to what is apparently a local tradition, a friend of ours who grew up in the Boston area suggested meeting there straight from the airport on a recent visit to town, and so the maiden voyage was made.

If you're like me, you might be familiar with East Boston from the movie "Next Stop Wonderland," a rom-com confection featuring Hope Davis, a passel of personal-ad suitors (sad how the advent of Internet dating has aged this movie so quickly), and a saucy little blowfish called Puff. Ms. Davis's would-be soulmate is the plumber/marine-biologist Alan, a working class philosopher who hails from the gritty-yet-true-blue neighborhood known affectionately as "Eastie." And if Alan weren't a fictional chick-flick character, I feel sure he would get his pizza at Santarpio's.

The Blue Line of the subway runs through East Boston, so we took the train to the airport stop and hoped to find our way from there on foot. I was under the impression this place was fairly well known, and I think it is - it seems to crop up perennially on Best of Boston lists - but when we asked the customer service agent at the station which way we should exit to get there he laughed disbelievingly (if indulgently) and asked, as though we'd been let in on some huge secret, "Who told you about Santarpio's?"

He then advised us that the lamb was a little tough (would we be expected to eat lamb?), "but you get used to it," and when we said we would probably just be getting pizza he nodded approvingly. "Pizzer and bee-ah ... you can't go wrong with pizzer and bee-ah." (For commentary on when the "r" gets dropped and when it remains in Boston speech, see Dan Tobin's post on Laura Linney's crummy accent in "Mystic River." I don't presume to understand the rules; all I can do is transcribe what I hear on the street. )

There was indeed lamb on the menu: lamb, sausages, and pizza. The meats seem to serve as a sort of appetizer. (You know you're in dude country when the appetizer is hunks of meat.) I did try the lamb, but I would describe it more as chewy than tough. I said no to the accompanying pickled peppers, and was glad I did when one of our companions coughed and yelped simultaneously as she bit into one. A little on the hot side.

But the pizza, oh the pizza. It had a luxurious excess of cheese, with a certain gooeyness (in a good way) that I have never before encountered. The crust was just this side of overdone (again in a good way - we like 'em crispy), and the sauce struck just the right balance of sweet and tangy. It's hard to describe what was so great about it, only that it was so very right.

I love places like this, seeming holes in the wall that everyone knows about, and that really do deliver on simple but superlative food. For a city that's known more for its pub grub than for being a foodie mecca, Boston seems to have an inordinate amount of these places, and maybe that's why. They're not trying to impress anyone, they're just working on doing one or two things well, and if you don't like it you can go somewhere else.

Labels: ,

Friday, May 26, 2006

Eat at Emma's

Isn't it great when you find a new favorite place? We tend to whine at lot at our house about all the restaurants we miss in San Francisco, and while I realize this is primarily an attitude problem on our part, it's still exciting to try something new and feel like you could see yourself going back there regularly.

I'd passed Emma's pizzeria a bunch of times, but even though I often said, "Oh, we should try that place sometime," the truth is that I didn't really want to. I think it was the sign: it was cute, too cute. A sign for the kind of place where you get fussy, yuppie pizza, overpriced and undersatisfying, probably with haughty service. (Interestingly, my companion in Emma's exploration had assumed it would be just the opposite: stripped down counter service. Which I guess just goes to show when it comes to unfounded prejudices, it's each to his or her own.)

I had also figured Emma's was cute enough that we'd have to work for it, i.e. put in our time to get a table. But even though we walked in with a largish group at peak dinner hour on a Thursday night, we were told we'd have to wait all of five minutes.

It's not that the food was mind-bending. Everything was just so pleasant and good. Good, simple, crisp-crust pizza. Tons of topping options. Wine served in charmingly squat goblets. Wooden chairs painted different colors, and painted pizza peels on the walls (most notable was a Super Mario Bros design). Dim lighting, with a wide window along one wall offering a peek into the kitchen.

Our waiter took good care of us without making a big deal about it, and when the host collected our money as we left, he commented of the tip, "That is very generous!" When's the last time that happened?

Labels: ,

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Lilac Crimes

It's been lilac season around here for the last few weeks, and people have lilac fever. Every time I go out I see someone walking along with a bunch of the flowers sticking out of the top of a purse or the basket of a bicycle.

The other night on the T, I noticed a guy with one of those wheelie bags, clearly heading for the airport, with a huge bunch of sweet purple flowers popping out of the top zippered edge.

I must confess that, though I, too, have procured some fresh lilacs this month, I am neither lilac owner nor lucky recipient, but a lilac thief. I held back for a few weeks, thinking how horrible it would be if everyone acted on their lilac lust, stripping the buds from the streetside branches. But then one warm night after a few glasses of wine and a massive lobster dinner at Legal Seafoods with my cousin, I gave in and snitched a few low-hanging blooms. The warmth in the air really brought out the scent, you know, and it was too much to resist.

Anyway, that particularly grapey, dark purple variety got me thinking about a knitting project I had long ago laid aside, a little short-sleeved spring sweater in that exact shade. That was the problem though: it wasn't little at all. It was wide enough for Aunt Millie and her pet hippopotamus to set up camp. I didn't do a test swatch first, because I never do, but as it came out unusually short in the torso, I don't think that was necessarily the problem. But either way, I didn't realize how massive the thing was until after laboring at it - tiny, tiny stitches, with an allover lattice-texture pattern - for well over a year. In fits and starts, of course. That much purple starts to make you crazy after awhile, and you need a break.

I should never start projects like this, but I get seduced by books such as the devilishly charming "Vintage Knits," by Sarah Dallas (a.k.a. "The Bible," as our crafty friend Dolin calls it).

It really does have some lovely designs, but I suspect what really hooks me is the dreamy photographs of models lounging in whitewashed, bare-wood floor Notting Hill flats (the book is English). These models are usually in their underwear. I'm not sure what that has to do with knitting, but it definitely helps to differentiate the book from grandma knitting. It is knitting porn, for those of us who yearn for a simpler time of vintage cardigan designs, sun-dappled Sundays spent with a bowl of cafe au lait, and boy-short panties sans cellulite.

See what I mean?

Now first, we must ask, what is she doing perched on that little stool in her handknit sweater and skivvies? Second, where did she get those undies, they are so cute! Probably at some freaking British store. But wait a minute, could there be more to that pose than mere artfulness? Notice how her arms are folded across her chest in both photos. A friend of mine took a knitting pattern-making workshop awhile back, and her instructor warned them about patterns where the model is somehow obstructing the view of the garment: it's often because there's a problem with the fit.

Nevertheless, I made the sweater, it turned out badly, and then sat in a box until just the other week, when the stolen lilacs gave me courage. I remembered a sock-knitting class I had taken at Atelier Yarns in San Francisco (the way I first learned how to read knitting patterns), and how another woman in the class had described crocheting a new edge into a knitted piece that had come out wrong, fixing herself "a big drink," and then cutting off the excess. I remember Grace, the nice owner, saying, "Well, if it worked, then great!" Cutting into knitting is scary, and kind of a no-no, because if you don't adequately anchor everything it could unravel. It's also less stretchy and elastic with a rigid seam. But there wasn't any alternative, so I decided to take the plunge.

The crocheted seam:

The big drink:

The (gasp) scary cut, with lacy hemming tape stitched over the raw edges:

The finished piece:

Still a little wide, maybe, but good enough. This sweater was supposed to have sleeves, but the shoulders came out so wide I just left them off and improvised a ribbed edge. Amazingly, they came out like intentional capped sleeves. In fact, the whole sweater came out surprisingly well - this may actually be the first sweater I've made for myself that I will actually wear.

Incidentally, how sad is that? I have a feeling it's not that uncommon.


Thursday, May 11, 2006

The Family China

I've been slowly trying to integrate some of my parents' things into our home, and it's hard. I'm afraid of overdoing it, crowding out our own things, and yet so many objects have some specific memory attached to them, I can't let them go. Every time I come across a mundane object that carries no aura of meaning, I feel a surge of joy that I can toss something else in the thrift pile.

I hung a set of shelves with their old teacup collection on the wall of our dining room (sans dining table) the other day. I didn't even realize it as I was arranging them, but afterwards I noticed that the different colors of the mismatched cups picked up the palette of a cityscape painting I had placed nearby: green trees, blue sky, terra cotta brick buildings, each hue reflected in a teacup of its own.

These cups carried a powerful symbolism for me when I was small, the way things do in childhood. Each family member had a cup of their own, or at least I always made sure the "right" cup went to the right person when they were used at the end of dinner parties.

Dad got an English Tudor village motif, for the simple reason that it was mostly brown, and thus the most masculine cup in my opinion.

Mom's was easy: the green cup scattered with lilies of the valley. She loved these flowers, had even carried a bunch of them at her wedding, each threaded on an individual strand of wire so they would fit in the slim-necked perfume vial my father had given her to hold them.

While the adults drank their coffee and tea, I had hot chocolate, and was trusted to drink it from my favorite cup, the one adorned with strawberries and butterflies and bugs. Cocoa always tasted better from its gilded rim.

I grew up thinking of lily of the valley as a rare flower, seldom seen in your average garden, but darned if they aren't cropping up all over our corner of Cambridge and Somerville. For such tiny flowers, they give off a powerful scent, piercingly sweet .

Thursday, May 04, 2006

What Happens When You Read Too Much Domino Magazine

It begins to seem necessary to affix decorative coral-branch hooks to the wall to organize your necklace collection.

They do work pretty niftily though.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Feeling Podgy

Do you know about Mod Podge? It is a somewhat miraculous Elmer's Glue-like substance that is made to satisfy all your decoupaging impulses. (I see on the web site that its inventor derived the name from the phrase "modern decoupage." Aha! Obvious as it now is, I would never have guessed.) I learned of it several years ago when our friend Suzanne sent us an invitation to a party in the form of this decoupaged Altoids tin. (For the record, it still contains its original mints, rattling around inside. I never did like Altoids much. They are, curiously, too strong.)

Suzanne recommends the matte-finish Podge, and after experimenting with the gloss as well as outdoor finishes, I have to concur. I find the glossy variety retains its tackiness even after it dries, and the texture of the brushstrokes once dried aren't as smooth and puddingy and painterly. I don't know, maybe I'm doing something wrong - I see a blogger by the name of Disgruntled Housewife disagrees.

Anyway, I don't care, I'm sold on the matte finish now. There was a review of the re-released movie "Double Life of Veronique" in the New Yorker recently, and while the accompanying illustration didn't look much like Irene Jacob to me, it did remind me a bit of Suzanne, and so, following her Mod Podge instructions, I made this post card for her.

A few unread New Yorker issues, an Anthropologie catalog or two, and a pot of Mod Podge, and you, too, could be making such masterpieces.


Mofongo Relleno de Carrucho

That's what I had one night for dinner last week in Puerto Rico, and I can't stop thinking about it. Plantains stuffed with conch, that is. About twenty of us, all guests at a friend's wedding, stormed into a rather bleak-looking boardwalk taverna, no doubt terrifying the kitchen staff, but one long hour later the food started rolling out, and what I had was well worth the wait. Mashed, garlicky plantain lined the inside of a large ceramic cup, and inside that was a mixture of a spicy tomato-and-conch stew. At first I thought the conch meat was cut up into lots of little pieces - I had never eaten it before, and had imagined it would be about the size of a piece of abalone (not that I've ever eaten that, either) - but gradually I realized, no, I was just consuming lots and lots of the critters. Sorry, guys.

This is a conch shell I found among the tangle of mangrove branches on a little island we kayaked to. Chances are good that I was not supposed to remove said shell from the island, so scold me if you will, but there were tons of them. I had no idea such a showy shell could be so plentiful - I pretty much assumed they could only be found on the shelves of souvenir shops these days. But these were lying around like so much trash, along with broken bits of coral and tiny pink and green shells that slowly grew legs and scuttled away as I crouched amidst them, stealthy hermit crabs going about their Caribbean business.

Labels: ,