As our airplane lifted out of Boston this Tuesday, the fog at the horizon of the bay mixed with the low clouds and I became unable to tell what was sea and what was sky. An occasional sail stood out below as a tiny triangle of bright white on a backdrop of gray-white mist, assuring me momentarily that I wasn’t really gone just yet. And then we were truly in the clouds. Thus, my trip to the Northeast officially became a happy memory as we traveled back to Texas.
It is truly a good friend or a devoted family member who makes welcome the four who comprise this troop amongst whom I travel. I’m a piece of work at times, or so I’ve been told, and following me are a 7 and a 9 year old who are non-stop, well, let’s call it “fun.”
Yet we stayed with two such intrepid families on our journey, and shared their lives and homes along the way. I am grateful. Certain names are being withheld so that you don’t call to ask and stay at their house, too. I can’t have them getting sick of visitors…or I might not have a place to crash next year.
Boston was a short stop, but great fun. We walked the steps of history. We enjoyed looking at buildings most of which are older than the oldest buildings in Dallas. The top photo for this post is of a little hidden lane called Acorn Street. Our cab driver (one of many VERY nice cab drivers) took us there because he thinks it is the prettiest street in Boston, and I think he is right. Walking the city center gives you constant opportunities to talk history with kids. Statues dot the parks and walkways. Great architecture, memorials, and waterways, keep the eyes well fed. Unfortunately, I did not do my homework on the food front and scored a nearly perfect failure on restaurant choices. And it is a pity, because I know that I was in a food capital. And, while lovely, nothing is cheap in Boston and I abhor paying big for lame food. We didn’t do our homework on anything, though, and the city rolled out in front of us and we had a ball. The people are friendly. As I noted earlier, the cab drivers are incredibly friendly. It is a pedestrian’s dream. In Texas, cars do not really stop for humans and I found myself very happily confused by all the nice drivers who were stopping at all of the cross-walks to let the pedestrians go across. In fact, the city is so pedestrian friendly that I almost felt sorry for the cars, as people cross willy-nilly regardless of the signals. But, walking in Boston is fun.
One of the best things we did was ride the Duck boats. Again, a bit expensive, but so fun and comprehensive that it is totally worth it. Our boat captain wore a tiny little toga and a wreath of gold leaves. They all dress up and ham it up. But our guy…Claudius, Nero..???…I forget…but he was a ton of fun and he let the kids steer the WWII era amphibious vehicle up and down the Charles River. The Boston Public Garden is stunning and we spent a happy hour there feeding ducks and birds and watching the Swan Boats move about the water. Of course I ran across a farmers market. I’m a magnet for them, happily. We found one on a Thursday outside of the Prudential Center in Back Bay. Notice my currants and squash below…lovely. We bought a bun shaped like a turtle which the very lucky duckies in the Public Garden had for dinner.
When I finally got wise and put out a Twitter call for help regarding food, Penny De Los Santos answered my call and insisted that I go forthwith to a Japanese restaurant called Myers+Chang and “order deep.” By that time I only had a breakfast ahead of me before leaving Boston and I happily took a morning walk with my daughter to the North End to Flour, the bakery owned by the Chang of Myers+Chang. Joanne Chang, a Harvard econ and math grad who was moved to follow her passion for food, knows how to make me smile. The bakery, which brought to mind memories of my moment last summer in Tartine in San Francisco, was full of a smiling breakfast crowd lined up to the door. We in Texas do move more slowly than the rest of you. I am particularly in love with dawdling as I peruse a menu board, making a phenomenal high energy bakery like flour challenging. I end up looking at the feast of pastry and bread in front of me, and then the line behind me. I get nervous about holding up the line and order just about everything in a panic over missing “the one perfect thing.” But it was a joyful visit. Lily and I walked the half mile or so back to the hotel lugging a box of treats, a loaf of bread and a not-to-be-missed, signed cookbook.
The book, called flour, is a keeper. It is packed with great recipes for pastries and breads, along with nice comments and stories that make some of the more complicated feats of baking seem doable. If you are a cookbook collector, I think you should know about this one.
With full bellies and a sugar high, we hit the road to the Cape, specifically Cotuit, MA. We sailed. We sat on the dock. We watched kids in sailboat races. We played. Our kids learned the fine art of doing a California roll on a hammock, wherein you get the big kids to push you so fast that you spin all the way over. Bruises and squeals of joy ensued.
We ventured out and visited other towns on the Cape, but it is hard to get excited about window shopping when your hosts have a house on the water. Hanging around was our calling. I lived in a photograph of the best of the Cape for a week. Cotuit is a beautiful, slow paced, off-the-beaten-path gem. But it isn’t exactly a tourist town, for which I was thankful. But if you are looking for main streets packed with darling shops, check out Osterville or Chatam. There is a little market in Cotuit that everyone calls “the coop” (Cotuit Fresh Market) that serves seriously good made to order sandwiches. I love it when people take pride in making good sandwiches…not fancy, but good. I recommend the chicken salad. The boys all said the hot dogs are amazing, too. It is the spot where all the kids go to grab lunch before running to sailing lessons, or jumping on a bike to wander. Margaret introduced me to two excellent local discoveries from the coop that you might not know about. When we arrived at our rental house (we rented a lovely pad in town and camped all day at Margaret’s home), she had a beach bucket full of goodies including a loaf of Pain D’Avaignon bread and a jar of Jess’ Jams in the house waiting for us. The bread was a delicious cranberry pecan loaf that made transcendent toast. The blueberry rhubarb jam was wonderful!
We tried to sneak up on the Cotuit Oyster Company…but they weren’t home…and by that I mean they were likely off on the water working their rears off. It is not a retail store, but the house from which the company is run. I walked out on the public beach and enjoyed looking at their dock and operation from a distance. And, I already know that they are good oysters, so it is worth mentioning. Perhaps next time we will have a little oyster festival on the beach. I learned to eat oysters raw in Texas, how to roast them on a piece of tin roof in South Carolina, and now I want to eat them on the beach on the Cape. Grand idea, I think.
We missed a Kettleers game due to a storm and this is reason enough to visit again. Apparently the Cape is tops for minor league ball, and Cotuit has a great team called the Kettleers that draws a great local crowd. Are you seeing kids beyond the fence catching foul balls and homers? Americana.
Regarding food on this leg of our journey, I had occasion to talk to Margaret, about the notion of what I always call “lake food.” Mind you, this is not a pejorative term to me. But there are categories of food, such as lake food, road trip food, and picnic food that live by different rules than my usual cooking. And by that I mean that when you are at the lake (or on the Cape) you are usually getting your supplies at smaller, local joints that don’t necessarily traffic in Creme Fraiche and caviar. Although, I’ll say that the shelves on the Cape are well stocked with some pretty impressive stuff. But, I digress. Shelf stable becomes more important than other more popular qualities. This is when recipes that use cans, cake mixes and frozen anything is utterly called for. In fact, it is part of the fun. We decided that PIE needs a category for “lake food” or as we called it “throw-down” recipes. So, check in for installment number 1 next week.
After a rather spectacular time on the Cape, we loaded up and drove to northwestern Vermont to visit family. We stopped in Concord, MA to visit Composite Engineering. They make Olympic canoes, spars, and the fabled Van Dusen rowing shell, which my husband needed to see up close and personal. The great thing about visiting Composite Engineering is that they are just a hop from Walden Pond. So after I suffered a 30 minute stint with 2 squabbling kids in a car while Pitts was loving on boats, I got to go and stick my toes in the water of Thoreau’s favorite swimming hole. It brought me a great deal of joy to take photographs of my children wading in Walden Pond.WILLISTON, VERMONT
Vermont knocked me out. We stayed with relatives of my husband’s in Williston. Williston is just outside of Burlington, a bustling yet bucolic college town. Pitts’ cousins, Dave and Lauren, took us in and let us live their lives for a spell. The depth of the green colors, the hills, the ponds, and THE most wonderful vegetable garden I have ever seen became my playground. I learned instantly and on a cellular level why people tolerate such punishing winters up there…they also get the summer. And the summer is grand.
We picked cucumbers, onions, purple beans, green beans, yellow beans, and the largest and most impressive head of cabbage I have ever seen. All of our meals were composed primarily of things we had taken from the garden. Dave even grilled salmon three different ways, each of which was prepared with an abundance of fresh herbs which were five minutes fresh from the garden.
Of note, Lauren prepared a bean salad that was wonderful. I’ve turned up my nose at bean salad for my entire life. Ask my mother. I clearly had no idea of what I was missing. Then again, Lauren used garden fresh beans. I was so very happy with that salad. Maybe we can talk Lauren out of the recipe. Cumin…a hint of cumin. So good. Robin served us chocolate mint sugar cookies on her sunny porch, and Hope dropped off loaves of homemade raisin and oat bread that made fantastic toast, sprinkle with a little bit of cinnamon sugar. This is a great family to belong to. Homemade, home-grown, small town, family joy.
We visited a spot that I’ve talked about previously called Isham Farm. It is the farm from which I order my maple syrup. Pitts brought back a few half gallons when he drove up to go to a rowing camp called Craftsbury a few years ago. I’ve been hooked since. But, what I’ve come to find out since is that the Ishams have also been hard at work diversifying the farm’s offerings. They have a substantial grove of blueberry bushes where you are invited to pick your own berries, have a picnic, visit the sugar house, or watch the kids walk a sunflower maze. Across the road at the main house, they have built. Beautiful barn for special events and dances, they have a flower greenhouse, and they lease out gardening plots. On top of that, the matriarch of the family, Ginger, runs a B&B. And I know that has to be great because Ginger is also a food columnist for the local paper and I’ve seen her down home recipes. And she is just about the nicest lady ever. I thought Lily was going to try to keep her. They have a Facebook page that keeps you up to date on the farm happenings.
We picked several quarts of blueberries from the lovely orchard. Lily eats blueberries by the bucket so she was a happy kid. Then again, she was happy anyway, what with her new cousins and aunts and uncles she had not met before this trip. Also, there was a real robin who Duncan, one of the Yandell men, had nursed back from the brink after the bird was abandoned by its family. Lily named the bird Tally and followed it (and Duncan) around the farm the entire weekend. She even got to go with Lauren to dig up worms. On our final evening there I watched Lily run up and down the hills of the property, squealing and laughing and frolicking over the acres. I wondered at how hot the Texas summer can be and how nice it was to see her and Ford running, freely, out in the open country, barefoot and smiling. It was a moment’s gift, a memory to keep, and a reminder that youth is fleeting as is the often hair raising privilege of parenting the young.
Dave and Lauren’s kids are grown, handsome, kind, and brilliant. They were all around and about us. I think Dave and Lauren enjoyed having another peek at the joviality of the childhoods they had witnessed in their home while we enjoyed a peek at the contentedness of parents who had raised good, solid, successful and kind adults.
Little did I know that our return route to Boston to catch our flight home would be as nice as our trip out. Never underestimate the power of a bathroom emergency to get you off track in a good way. A highway exit deposited us right into historic Montpelier where we toured the golden domed Capitol building. There are fossils in the quarried stone floor. Don’t forget to look down. The architectural details are lovely. Don’t forget to look up. And the gift shop has nifty artisan socks, sold in threes so you don’t have to feel angry about feeding the sock monster a one-of-a-kind sock.
I was delighted that we took the time to stop at the King Arthur Flour compound on the way back. Imagine everything that you have wanted out of the catalog, right there at your fingertips. It was Heaven. I used an abundance of self control and only bought a gift for my neighbor, Wonderful Linda, who had garden tending and hermit crab babysitting duty while we were away. But I could have gone absolutely wild in there. And, there is a cafe…and, you get to stare longingly at the classes going on behind big panes of glass. Next purchase, once my life calms a bit…sourdough starter! We also drove by beautiful Dartmouth College, and of course checked out the boat house. Baking for me…boats for Pitts…fair enough.
One more night in Boston, just to sleep…in a hotel perched atop a freeway just like the McDonald’s on the Vinita Exit on the Will Rogers Turnpike. It is eerie sleeping on top of a highway. But it was a nice enough hotel, thankfully. And then, we were off to a plane, where I began to type this post, trying to not forget a moment of it all as much as I’m trying to share it with you. Boston, Cotuit, Williston…and many points in between. It is a wonderful part of this beautiful country.