Five Easy Places


Watertown, Massachusetts, has been my hometown for 25+ years. It’s not the kind of place where you would go for a night on the town, it’s a bit gritty and not uniformly scenic, but it’s also right on the banks of the Charles River and is home to the historic and beautiful Mount Auburn Cemetery, the final resting place of Buckminster Fuller, Oliver Wendell Holmes, and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. But if I had to quickly say what I love about Watertown, I’d have to go with the food.

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Watertown has a large Armenian community, and also sizable Greek and Italian populations, which, combined with the local custom of independent retailers, makes for some delicious food choices. And one good thing about being a densely populated town, you don’t have far to go to enjoy a variety of cuisines.

To get you started, here are five reasons to spend an afternoon in Watertown: Iggy’s Bread of the World (Iggy is from Siberia), Sevan Bakery (Armenian and Middle Eastern), Fastachi (sublime roasted nuts and chocolates), Sofra (Turkey, Lebanon, and Greece), and Sophia’s Greek Pantry (Yogurt!). And even though Iggy’s is now in Cambridge, it all started in Watertown, so we can lay some claim there.

This short video features noted Boston chef Ana Sortun, talking about how her love of Mediterranean and Middle Eastern spices led to her celebrated restaurants, Oleana and Sofra.

You could make a nice walking tour of four of the five places I mention here. I had to include Iggy’s, which is a short drive away, because I am loyal to my first local love. Iggy’s breads are available in many supermarkets and grocers, but going to the source is worth a trip. For a quick bit of background, check out this short article I wrote for the food blog Eat With Me, A Short Love Letter: Iggy’s Pecan Raisin Rolls.

 


Back to the Future Reading

At a friend’s recommendation I started listening to a PRI podcast, “The World in Words” last week. I really liked the few I listened to—good variety, nice pacing, perfect length for one-way commute to work. The one that really grabbed me was the one on invented languages—”Beyond Elvish.” An unapologetic Tolkien fan and veteran of grad-school Old English (Beowulf in the original!), I am a sucker for this stuff. The podcast touched on Tolkien and a couple of other authors who used invented languages as plot devices or ways to play with ideas in their novels.

Ursula K. LeGuin talked about the language she invented for her novel from the 1970s, The Dispossessed. I had read the Earthsea Trilogy back then, but never got around to The Dispossessed. The podcast includes an interview with LeGuin, now in her eighties, about Pravic, spoken by a group of anarchists who “want to remove from the language anything that implies ownership.” I love that kind of talk, so I downloaded the audiobook and got to it. So far, I’m loving it. [more tk]

The real treat, from the website, was a New Zealand weather forecast delivered in Elvish.

A Mid Winter’s Nor’easter


 
The storm I won’t call NEMO crushed the Boston area about 10 days ago. It was a worthy storm, windy and snowy enough for the hardiest New Englander.

I was lucky enough to be well stocked with food, drink, and electricity, and unlucky enough to have to ride it out alone. I’m pretty sure I frittered away most of the weekend, but I was productive enough to have made a potato leek soup, cream biscuits, and salted cashew oat cookies.

Sunday Brunch in York, Maine

Cooking classes: demo or hands-on? Even though I learn by doing it myself, in a group cooking class I prefer demo. This one was perfect for the day and my mood. This mid-January gathering for a group of friends who don’t see each other much during the winter provided a way to chat on the 75-minute drive to and fro, a good meal, and learning a bit about cooking from an experienced chef. Stonewall Kitchens Cooking School was the destination.

“Breakfast for Brunch or Dinner” with Christine Rudalevige presented a menu of sausage, egg and broccoli frittata with roasted fingerling potatoes; chicken curry with yogurt sauce served with whole wheat coconut waffles; and candied bacon served with cinnamon and spice breakfast puffs.

 

 

Christine was engaging, funny, and knowledgeable, with an easy rapport with the attendees. The whole thing was well-paced with enough air between courses. The physical space was inviting—sunny and comfortable—with easy access to a bunch of kitchen gadgets and tools that you didn’t know you needed.

Probably my favorite course was the candied bacon and cinnamon “donut.” What can I say? And I learned a few things: Harold McGee has a fairly recent book out, Keys to Good Cooking; making rosemary simple syrup is easy and delicious; you can clean a stubbornly dirty cast iron pan with kosher salt; use half canola or corn oil with half olive oil for cooking at high heat; fontina is a good melting cheese; cut peeled fresh ginger into “coins” and then smack with a knife to avoid the “threads” you can get when grating ginger.

Bon appetit indeed.