Sunday, September 11, 2011

Boston, Massachusetts

For those of you who don't know: my girlfriend, Ursa, has a beautiful full sleeve tattoo of works by her favorite artist, Alphonse Mucha. The piece was almost finished, she had only one sitting left with her tattoo artist, James. Unfortunately James had relocated from Denver, Colorado, all the way up to Portland, Maine. (As a shameless plug I would like to encourage anyone in the market to get some ink done to consider an appointment with James at Fianna Studio. Maybe it's a little out of the way, but it's a small trip if it's first class work that you're looking for) So we packed our bags and began the long journey from Alaska to Maine, but we figured that if we were traveling to New England, we'd be remiss if we didn't spend some quality time in Beantown.
We actually stayed in nearby Lexington and took the metro into Boston every day. The transit system is very efficient, and user friendly. I highly recommend it. We were there in September, which was a lovely time of year for a visit. Bring some comfortable shoes though, because there's lots of walking to be done around downtown Boston.


Old South Meeting House
History, history, history. There is no better place to get an up close and personal look at American history than in Boston. Visit places like the Old South Meeting House, formerly the Old South Church, where, in 1773, 5,000 colonists met to debate British taxation. During the meeting, Samual Adams said to the crowd, "Gentlemen, this meeting can do nothing more to save the country." This statement is believed to be a signal to a group known as the Sons of Liberty who then disguised themselves as mohawk indians and raided three British tea ships docked in Boston Harbor. This incident was famously dubbed The Boston Tea Party. The Meeting house was scheduled to be destroyed in 1876 but was saved and became the first successful historic preservation effort in New England.
Quincy Market
Also, make a visit to Faneuil Hall which includes three large market buildings (North Market, Quincy Market, and South Market) and still operates in it's original function as an indoor/outdoor mall, and eatery. It has been in operation since 1742.
One of Boston's most popular tours follows the Freedom Trail which includes sites such as the Boston Common, Kings Chapel, Paul Revere's House, The Bunker Hill Monument, and the site of The Boston Massacre as well as the Old South Meeting House and Faneuil Hall.

USS Constitution in the foreground, Bunker Hill Memorial in the background

The USS Constitution was one of six ships constructed under the Naval Act of 1794. It was a well traveled ship seeing action in the West Indies, Brazil and the coast of Africa during The Barbary Wars, but her most famous action was during the War of 1812 when she fought the British frigate HMS Guerriere. After the battle one of the sailors exclaimed, "Huzzah! Her sides are made of iron!" Earning the Constitution her nickname "Old Ironsides".  She would bring down 3 more British warships during the War of 1812 but her battle with the Guerriere remains her finest hour.
Today the Constitution remains a fully commissioned vessel of the US Navy, and is crewed by 60 sailors and officers. She is the oldest commissioned naval vessel in the world. Her mission today is to promote understanding of the Navy's role in both war and peace through education, participation in public events, and historic demonstration. After a major renovation in the mid 90's the Constitution was finally able to leave port and sail under her own power again in 1997, just in time to celebrate her 200th birthday. She remains berthed at Pier 1 of the former Charleston Navy Yard and is a part of the Freedom Trail.

While in Boston, take a stroll down the eclectic shopping district of Newbury Street. Here the historic brownstones have been converted into shops and galleries that run the gamut from shabby to chic. Sometimes called the "Rodeo Drive of the East", Newbury Street is comparable to the high end fashion districts in New York, Los Angeles, or San Francisco, especially in the realm of hair salons, as salon owner famously quipped, "You go off Newbury Street and you're a second class citizen." The wonderful galleries and boutiques make for a stellar day of shopping. Make sure to bring your appetite with you, because Newbury Street has plenty of great restaurants as well.


The Union Oyster House, and Union Street
Have no fear my foodie friends, there is no shortage of good eats in Boston. First of all, you have to sample the various Irish Pubs that are located all over the city. Plan on popping into one while exploring the Boston area, for some fish & chips and a pint of Sam Adams. One of our favorites was JJ Foley's, but Solas was also very good.
The one culinary MUST of Boston is The Union Oyster House. The building itself is more than 250 years old. Around 1775 the silk and dry goods store became the headquarters for the first paymaster of the Continental Army, Ebenezer Hancock, and there is little doubt that the area where diners sit today was the pay station where soldiers waited to receive their "war wages". Later, Daniel Webster became a regular customer at the famed oyster bar downstairs, and the Kennedy clan would also have a table dedicated to them. History aside, the food at the Union Oyster House is also every bit as good as advertised. But yeah, the food was great. . . blah, blah, blah, I want to tell you about their coffee. Yes, their coffee. I am not joking when I say that the single best cup of coffee that I have ever tasted was at Union Oyster House in Boston. I ordered a cup of just regular 'ol black coffee and it was fantastic! It was mild and smooth, not bitter at all, and with an almost chocolatey finish. In a word, superb.
And speaking of coffee, being from the west coast, I couldn't help but notice that Boston has a Dunkin' Donuts on every other street corner in lieu of  a Starbucks.  Normally I try to remain as complimentary and accepting of the city that I'm visiting but in this case of east coast versus west coast I've got to tell you Boston, you lose. Across the board every product offered at Dunkin Donuts pales in comparison with Starbucks. I left Boston convinced that I need to buy as much Starbucks stock as I can, because here in the not-so-distant future that company is going to boom when New Englanders finally wake up to the realization of what a vastly superior product they've been missing out on. (Rant over)

Home Cooking

One dish that we had that I enjoy making because it makes me think of Boston, is Fisherman's Stew. We had an especially tasty meal of it at Legal Sea Foods, which had big lumps of wonderfully fresh haddock. This is a recipe that I pirated from Rachael Ray and is very good.

Fisherman's Stew

Seafood Base
1 medium red onion (coarsely chopped)
1 Fresno chili pepper (chopped)
1 Tablespoon lemon zest
2 cloves garlic (minced or grated)
1/2 cup flat leaf parsley (a couple handfuls)
2 Tablespoons thyme
2 fresh bay leaves

Soup Base
1/4 Cup extra virgin olive oil
6 anchovy filets
4 small ribs celery (chopped)
2 starchy potatoes (peeled and diced)
1 red pepper (finely chopped)
1/2 bottle lager beer (6 ounces)
1 28 ounce can of diced tomatoes
2 Cups chicken stock
1 pound cod (cut into chunks)
1 pound sea scallops

1 loaf ciabatta or other crusty bread for serving

For the seafood base: place the red onion, chili pepper, lemon zest, garlic, parsley, thyme, and bay leaves into food processor and whiz into a paste.

For the soup base: heat the olive oil and anchovies over med/high heat. When the anchovies melt into the oil, add the seafood base and stir 3-4 minutes. Then add celery, potatoes, and red pepper and cover the pot for 4-5 minutes to sweat them out, stirring occasionally. Deglaze the pot with beer. Add tomatoes, and chicken stock and bring to a boil, simmer for 20 minutes or until it has been reduced by a third. Turn off heat, cool and store for a make-ahead meal.

To reheat: Reheat over med/high heat. Crust up warm bread in a hot oven. When the soup comes to a boil, fold or nestle the cod and scallops into the liquid, and return to a boil, cook for 5 minutes, until the fish is opaque, and cooked through. Remove from heat and serve immediately, with bread for mopping.


The Airborne Toxic Event at Somerville Theatre

Both Ursa and I were extremely excited to see one of our favorite bands The Airborne Toxic Event play an acoustic set with The Calder Quartet at the former vaudeville stage, Somerville Theatre. This is an immensely talented band and if you are not yet familiar with them you really owe it to yourself to check them out. Have a listen to their hit "Sometime Around Midnight" or "Gasoline". This performance was everything you hope for: fantastic band, plus string quartet, plus intimate and unique venue equals unforgettable night.
We also couldn't miss out on an opportunity to catch a musical while in Boston. We were lucky enough to get tickets to Wicked, which was showing at The Boston Opera House. The prequel to The Wizard of Oz, was funny and charming and the sets and performance were top notch. If you take the show at face value as a fanciful, fun, family show (pardon the alliteration) then I think you'll leave very pleased with Wicked, though if you try to compare it with other high end touring musicals you may find yourself disappointed. I often have to remind myself of this notion at the movies, not every film has to be Bridge on the River Kwai, sometimes you need Airplane! too. It's theater, and it's allowed to be fun sometimes. Chandra Lee Schwartz as the thoroughly saccharine Glinda (the good witch) was hilarious!  Wicked is currently touring the US, don't let it slip through your town without catching it.

Woody:  What do you say to a cold one, Norm?
Norm:  See you later, Vera; I'm going to Cheers!