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Seven Hills

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

Friday, October 26, 2007

Cider Hill

A funny thing about being back in a traditional, four-season climate is the pressure I feel to make the most of each season. Must go leaf-peeping/snow-shoeing/swimming before it's toooo late! I don't remember my parents worrying much about this stuff when I was growing up - did we go to a pumpkin patch, ever? The parking lot of the local Osco-Jewel was the only pumpkin patch we knew (well, except for Gene the Pumpkin Man's farm, if we happened to be in Michigan). Still, this seize-the-season compulsion motivated us last weekend to go apple picking, and our research led us to Amesbury's Cider Hill Farm.

The place looked like quite a zoo as we pulled up, almost theme-parkish, with lots of cars in the parking field - it was a warm, blue-skied day, after all, perfect for outdoor family activities - but once we headed into the orchard the crowds sort of melted away.

I haven't been apple picking many times. I remember going once when I was really little, when we lived in Connecticut, and my godfather climbing the trees to get the best apples. When I went at Nashoba Valley Winery just after college, they gave us each a long pole with a little basket on the end, for reaching into the upper branches to snag our fruit.

By contrast, the trees at Cider Hill seemed quite small. I'm assuming they're deliberately pruned to keep them at a manageable picking height. Whatever they're doing, it doesn't seem to be hurting the trees. Even rather late in the season, the trees were bountifully laden, almost ridiculously so. Too many apples!

So many apples, there was even accidental applesauce on the ground.

The wasps were benefitting from the sweet plenty, as well.

That name Cider Hill is no mere marketing ploy. The orchard really is up on a hill, and a rather steep one. As we sorted through the many rows of trees, trying to decide between Northern Spies and Cortlands, the occasional apple came bounding toward us with the speed of a rogue fast ball, as though pitched by some sneaky, apple-pickin' hooligan. But it wasn't, at least I don't think so, just an amplified effect of Newton's Second Law.

It truly was a great day to make the most of the season. The blazing leaves alone were worth the expedition.

Now what are we going to do with all these apples?

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Thursday, October 25, 2007

Shiny New Coffee

I stopped by the new cafe Bloc 11 over in Union Square this weekend (just moments before its Grand Opening party, as it happened). This might not be big news in another neighborhood, but in sleepy Union Square it was quite the event. It's also the sister establishment of the very popular Diesel Cafe in Davis Square, which is another reason to be excited.

Like the Diesel, Bloc 11 has a clean, industrial aesthetic, but the overall atmosphere felt less hipster-edgy: no bright colors on the walls, no pool table, and lots of plants. The building is a former bank, and the cafe even utilizes the old vault as a slightly claustrophobic reading room.

The afternoon was sunny and warm, the front windows were wide open, the tomato bisque soup was tasty, and the staff was friendly. All in all a very pleasant experience.

Though as some have pointed out, the name's similarity to the prison building at Auschwitz I is more than a little unfortunate.

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Thursday, October 18, 2007

Shopping with the Stars

When I go to New York I always look up a few places I've been meaning to visit, stores or restaurants I've read about, stuff like that. This time I spent an afternoon in Soho checking out the knitting shop Purl, and also Global Table, a kitchen and tableware shop that seems to be referenced in every issue of every home design magazine I've ever read.

Both turned out to be small, appealing, packed with carefully selected goods ... and a little disappointing. Perhaps a bit like seeing a beloved celebrity in person and discovering them to be a lot smaller and normal-looking than they appeared on the silver screen. Each of these places is name-dropped so often by the style cognoscenti, my expectations had been built up for something more.

True, the Purl storefront glowed like a happy rainbow on the gloomy, rain-spattered afternoon that I stopped by, and the fibers filling its cubby-lined walls were brilliantly colored and exquisitely textured to the last skein, but I can think of three or four other knitting shops off the top of my head that offer an equally scrumptious selection of yarn, with more to choose from, more inspiring books and gadgets, and a more comfortable setting. There was nothing wrong with Purl, but I don't know that it deserves all the special attention it gets.

As for Global Table, while it does bring a lot of interesting items together in one place, it felt kind of cluttered and messy, and didn't have much that I hadn't already seen elsewhere. Though it's possible it was just spoiled for me from having seen all the goods before in those endless "what we want NOW" magazine spreads.

I think the bottom line is that the people who work for these magazines mostly live in New York, and they've got to dredge up ideas for their stories the same as any journalist. At the end of the day, it's easiest to scout for merchandise within walking distance. And while these two stores (along with the rest of the editorial darlings) may be perfectly good, or even great, it's always going to be difficult to live up to the hype created by all that shiny editorial language. You know, kind of like when you read that a store "glowed like a happy rainbow."

Of course, knowing it's all marketing and spin won't stop me from hunting down the little hot-list boutiques, any more than it will prevent me from keeping my eyes peeled for famous folk, however small or ordinary they may appear in the flesh. It seems that as long as you pay attention, and particularly if you visit one of the trendier neighborhoods, you're sure to see somebody, though there's no guarantee it will be someone you care about. I enjoy how random this is - unlike a movie, where you know going in whether it will be peopled with stars from the A, B, or D list, the New York streets are not delineated by velvet ropes ... at least not yet. Everyone's just out there milling around and doing their thing, just like you or me (but with more money).

I suppose I should try to be blase about it, but I can't help it: I'm totally star-struck. I haven't run up to talk to anyone (so far), but I do tend to sidle around looking out of the corners of my eyes in a really obvious way, trying to take in the presence of the mythical celebrity beast in my own humdrum reality.

My cousin and I saw Anna Paquin shopping in Nolita last fall, and this summer Daniel and I passed Jimmy Fallon walking along with his head down and a "please don't notice me" expression on his face, but my most random and amusing "star" sighting was this last visit, and was the best because it was such a non-event: I noticed Ken Burns at the J. Crew in Soho, into which I had ducked to get out of the rain. Now, I am aware of the work of Ken Burns, respect what he does, and even watched a good bit of "The Civil War" many years ago, but I am by no means a devoted fan, so mainly I just found it funny that I recognized him at all, much less instantly. Also, because as he walked through the menswear department he gazed at the chinos and sweaters with the same slightly creepy, wide-eyed intensity you see when he appears on PBS, and pointed out various articles of clothing to the people he was with as though they were researching a documentary on the history of preppy clothiers in America. And who knows, perhaps that is his next project.

It's unfortunate that there isn't some way to sign up in advance for celebrity sightings, perhaps via Gawker Stalker, so the person glimpsing the celeb fully appreciates the experience. (No offense, Jimmy Fallon, but while I was excited to recognize you, you were otherwise wasted on me.) Maybe we could somehow barter them, à la craigslist ... let's see, on the day I saw Ken Burns, I could have swapped him for a Kristin Davis or a Jennifer Garner (with Violet) sighting. Though the mere fact that I consider Ken Burns a "celebrity" probably indicates I was the right person for the job.

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Monday, October 15, 2007

Pizza Chronicles: Lombardi's

After our gastronomically happy experience last winter at Grimaldi's Pizzeria in Brooklyn, we thought we'd try out another old-time coal-fired pizza oven place, this time the Little Italy establishment Lombardi's. It's described in somewhat equivocating fashion as the country's first "full-fledged" pizzeria, and was recommended to me awhile back by a friend and former New Yorker.

On the night we visited, we walked right in and got a table, but we could tell the place is used to dealing with crowds. The hostess greeted us with rapid-fire efficiency, then spoke into a headset like Madonna of the pizza ovens, summoning a runner from the back of the restaurant to guide us through a warren of dining rooms and food staging areas to our properly checker-clothed table in a narrow, brick-walled room. The service continued with swift proficiency, but with so little personality and face-time, it almost felt as though we were ordering food out of thin air.

All this streamlining had me a little worried that the quality of the pizza might be compromised in the name of efficiency, as well, but the simple cheese pie we ordered manifested itself with the same humble honesty of any non-famous old-time pizzeria, and we made it disappear with an efficiency to rival that of Lombardi's staff, though in our case aided by many diminutive glasses of house red.

I was interested to see that Lombardi's, like Grimaldi's, uses fresh mozzarella as its all-purpose cheese base. Maybe that's a common thing for traditional New York pizza, but for me it's a novelty (and one I enjoy). If memory serves I think I liked Grimaldi's a bit better, but Lombardi's crust stood out as particularly crisp and flavorful. If I go back, I'd probably order it with extra mozzarella to maximize the potential of all those lonely patches of sauce. Each one is a lost opportunity!

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Sunday, October 14, 2007


When it comes to quality drinking water, apparently nothing compares to what pools in the worn spots of our ancient bathtub. A certain feline has recently taken to galloping into the room following each shower, then leaping into the tub to avidly lap up the precious drops.


Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Sky Watch

This weekend my cousin paid us an impromptu visit, and to make the most of her brief stay we decided we'd take a day trip up to New Hampshire and hike Pack Monadnock (little brother to the Mount Monadnock I climbed last summer). When we reached the summit we were surprised to find a naturalist poised at the edge of a rocky outcropping, scanning the skies with single-minded concentration.

It turned out he was a graduate student working for the New Hampshire Audubon, monitoring this particular spot on the southward journey migrating raptors. How often would he be at his post? "Every day until Halloween," he said, with an expression of contented bliss.

We were impressed to see he'd already counted four bald eagles that day, and he told us he'd recently seen a passing flock of some type of hawk (broad winged? I can't remember) numbering about 500 birds. Though on our way up we saw a single red-tailed hawk kiting above us, suspended motionless in the air, and that in itself was pretty spectacular, too.

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