Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Nerdnite Boston (November Edition): Urban Foraging

After I had so much fun at October's Nerdnite, I couldn't resist attending the next one, especially since the first topic on the schedule was food-related: urban foraging. While I don't foresee myself becoming an avid forager, or a forager at all, really, it was definitely a fascinating talk. David Craft, a cancer researcher at Mass General, shared some thoughts on foraging around Boston (and even shared some food!). According to David, foraging is "equal parts plant knowledge and mindset." Be sure to check out his book if you want to learn more.

I did something that is probably considered nerdy even by Nerdnite standards. I took notes. So, without further ado, here's a whole bunch of stuff I learned and wrote down at the event. (But I did have a strong cocktail in the other hand...so that kind of negates the nerdiness, right? Right?)

Stuff I learned 
(...but please don't run outside and pick stuff and eat it just because you read it here...make sure you know what you're doing before putting unknown stuff in your mouth. Actually, that's a pretty good rule to live by in general!)

Even as the days are getting colder and shorter and drearier, there's still a variety of edible plants around this area: burdock root, dandelion root, acorns (yep, they're edible for us as well as squirrels, but most of the ones you'll find around here are from red oak and very bitter), stinging nettles (ouch?), curly dock, evening primroses, chickweed, beauty berries ("forage-able nerds" because they're crunchy and purple), and more.

Almost every seaweed around here is edible. Cattails are edible, but the ones in this area tend to grow in oily, dirty places, so you probably should avoid them. Dandelions grow everywhere and are totally edible.

Don't ruin a crop by taking it all; limit yourself to about 10%.

Some familiar plants you'll find around here that you can eat: apples, blackberries, grapes, pumpkins (plenty of old jack-o'-lanterns sitting on porches...), violets, daisy greens, rose blossoms and rose hips, day lilies (some people are allergic), sunflowers.

The Arnold Arboretum, which has a searchable plant inventory, is a great place to learn more about plants, but be aware that the Arboretum's official policy prohibits picking and destroying plants. Should you choose to disobey this policy, use common sense and stay away from the rare specimens. David noted that there are many "munchable" trees: linden, black locust, paw paw, quince, black walnut, mulberry, yew, and more.

Other good foraging spots include all along the Charles River, Franklin Park, Mt. Auburn Cemetery, and the Fells in Medford.

One safety note: don't trust mammals. Just because you see a mammal eating something and surviving, it doesn't mean that you can eat it. Example: deer love poison ivy. Always be aware of poisonous plants that look similar to the plants you think you're picking.

Another fun Nerdnite! For more nerdnite information, check out the website, Facebook, Twitter, and Flickr. Maybe I'll see you at the next one!

Monday, November 29, 2010

Pizza in New Haven (or, Why My Boyfriend Has Almost Nothing Nice To Say About Boston Pizza)

Joel's a pizza snob. A major one. Growing up in Connecticut, his old favorite was a place called Pizza Time in Bridgeport, back in its days of different ownership. Now, the famous Frank Pepe is a suitable substitute. (If you've never had Pepe's pizza, imagine a pie that is asymmetrical and coal-fired - much like Bertucci's pizza in appearance, but much, much better.) He brought me to the Fairfield location of Pepe's earlier this year, and I enjoyed it, but I cling to the opinion that there are many different types of pizza, and I can't possibly rate them all against each other. I grew up loving crispy bacon pizzas - small and pub-style - at Town Spa in Canton. For the last two years, I obsessively devoured cheese and pepperoni slices from Pino's in Cleveland Circle. I'll happily eat 'fancier' thin-crust pizza at places like ZING! and Emma's (previously reviewed here). I'll even go to Uno once in a great, great while for a nice artery-clogging deep dish sausage pizza. (Joel won't even dignify deep dish with the word "pizza". He has no problem with it as a separate entity...but it's not pizza.)

We found ourselves in New Haven the night before Thanksgiving, catching his brother's band, The Stepkids, play a late show, so we decided to try our luck on Pizza Row and see if we could find a reasonable line to wait in on the chilly night. We found Sally's Apizza, and the line seemed short. (Side note - many of the New Haven pizza places have an "a" in front of "pizza". The history page on the Pepe's website explains that this is from the Neapolitan dialect, and it's pronounced "ah-beetz".)

The wait for a table ended up lasting 45 minutes, which we considered pretty reasonable for a place with such a cult-like following. There was one moment towards the end of the wait when we started getting restless; a large group of people waltzed right in, and we stared angrily as they got to sit down while we continued to wait. Rumor has it there's a secret reservation phone number that some people can call.

After we sat, the only waiter quickly came over and took our order: one medium pizza, half pepperoni and half bacon, and a couple beers. The beers came quickly, and then we waited. And waited. And waited. We were sitting in the last booth by the kitchen, so we saw every single pizza come out and pass us by.  We kept wondering if it was going to be worth it. I theorized that they had to keep running out to score drugs to inject into the pizza to make it so addictive that people are willing to go to any length to eat there.

Finally, finally, 90 minutes later, it was our turn, and the man delivered our pizza to the table with a huge smile on his face that could only mean: "Here I am to save the day, and I'm going to put this down ever so slowly and love every nanosecond of it. And you will love me forever."

Thank you, Mr. Pizza Man. It was worth the wait.

Let me elaborate:
  • Crust: Perfectly chewy, perfectly doughy, charred just right, ever so slightly sweet
  • Cheese: Just the right amount, just the right flavor
  • Sauce: Not too sweet, not too bland, good amount
  • Cheese/Sauce Ratio: Just right!
  • Toppings: Bacon. Bacon. Bacon. YES. (Great pepperoni, too.)
Yes, you will have to wait forever, both outside and inside. Since I've only been here this once, I don't know the ebb and flow of the busy times, but I'd recommend only going here if you have a good three hours available. Actually, make that four. The resulting pizza coma will be intense.

The medium was just the right amount for two of us; we were satisfied but not disgustingly full.

But it was so wonderful and delicious and such an ordeal that I literally fell asleep in the bar we went to afterward. Yes, that's right, I fell asleep. In a bar. During a loud rock show. Oh, pizza coma.

I would definitely not go here frequently, even if I lived nearby, due to the wait, but for a once-in-a-great-while expedition, it's totally worth it. Drink slowly, because they'll probably never come back for a second drink order, and don't go when you're starving, because you just might find yourself vaulting over the counter and snatching someone else's pizza right out of the oven. Believe me, it was tempting.

So what's a pizza snob and a pizza-snob-in-training to do back in Boston? I'll let you in on our new secret place, one that we discovered recently. The pizza is good enough to meet our needs around here.

Newtowne Grille. Porter Square.

$11 for a large cheese pizza and a pitcher of PBR? Yes, please.

What's your favorite pizza in New Haven? Boston? Your hometown? Do you give different styles of pizza equal consideration, or is there only one real "pizza" to you?

Sally's Apizza on Urbanspoon

Connecticut Restaurants

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Blogger Meet-up at Cambridge, 1. (Fenway)

Last Tuesday, I got the chance to dine with a couple of bloggers I hadn't met before - Amanda of Tales From A Kitchen Misfit and Molly of Cheap Beets - thanks to a meet-up put together by Jayne Karolow, Events and Communications Manager for Cambridge, 1. and its sister restaurants. Unfortunately, no one else could make the event due to pre-Thanksgiving travel and preparations, but the three of us (plus significant others and Jayne) enjoyed some nice food, drink, and conversation at the spacious Fenway location of Cambridge, 1.

Cambridge, 1. (This is the Fenway location at 1381 Boylston St. in Boston. There's also a Harvard Square location at 27 Church St. in Cambridge.)

The menu features 13 charcoal grilled pizzas along with some salads, pasta, and soup. The pizzas come in half and full sizes; a half size left me satisfied but not uncomfortably stuffed.

A rep from J.K.'s Scrumpy Hard Cider came by and gave us free cider (and t-shirts!) Scrumpy Cider is organic and comes from a small farm in Michigan. We tried the original flavor as well as the seasonal Solstice (brewed with cinnamon, vanilla, and maple syrup). Both were very sweet and tasted virtually non-alcoholic, very similar to apple juice. I generally prefer very dry ciders, but these were a pleasant surprise for a sweeter cider.

We sampled a couple of appetizers; the wings were nice and meaty, and the warm flatbread that came with the meat platter was excellent.

It's a shame I'm writing this post days after going to one of New Haven's famous pizza places - more on that later this week - so I'm currently a bit biased against all other pizzas. If you like ultra-crispy flatbread pizzas, though, Cambridge, 1. is a decent place to go. Joel and I were a little underwhelmed, but he's a major pizza snob with a preference for NY/CT style, and I'm still on a New Haven pizza high, but this is really a very different type of pizza.

#8 - pepperoni (or you can get sopressata, if you prefer), tomato, fontina, romano

#10: maine lobster, corn, scallion, parmigiano, lemon butter

#11: hot cherry peppers, black forest ham, manchego
Cambridge, 1. is a lively place, and the portion size of the half pizzas is perfect for me. While I probably wouldn't go here for a date night, it's a fun meeting spot for a group of friends to gather or watch a sports game.

As always, it was lots of fun to meet some other bloggers! (Side note: Are you a Boston-area food blogger? Have you checked out my new site, Boston Food Bloggers, yet?)

I'm second from the left, Amanda (Tales From A Kitchen Misfit) is third from the right, Jayne is second from the right, and Molly (Cheap Beets) is on the far right.

Cambridge, 1. on Urbanspoon

Boston Restaurants

Disclosure: We received free drinks and discounted meals. Since I am not backed by the budget of a publication, I do occasionally accept free or discounted meals or products. I always disclose this and I am under no obligation to review positively - or review at all - these meals or products. Regardless of the cost or lack thereof, my reviews represent my full and honest opinion.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Thai Tapas and Circus Rock

I love Union Square. In a way, I'm glad the Green Line doesn't go there yet, because it still feels a bit like a hidden nightlife gem. There are plenty of great places to go, eat bar food, catch some good music, and not wait in lines or pay obnoxious covers. Joel's band, the Somerville Symphony Orkestar, was playing at PA's Lounge on Friday night - their last show of 2010 (and their very first show in Somerville). Despite their name, they've been gigging for about a year and a half in Cambridge, Boston, and even Providence...but never Somerville.

After loading in the equipment, we decided to grab dinner at one of our favorite Union Square spots, Ronnarong, a tiny Thai place where you can get tapas-style small plates (called gup gla-em, Thai for 'drinking food') and/or full-sized entrees. The restaurant is named for the chef (Ronnarong, or Ronnie) whose attention to detail is noticeable even when it comes to the physical menu, a hefty but lovely piece of art with a three-dimensional elephant on the cover. 

When deciding on a drink, I was initially conflicted: I was freezing and in the mood for hot tea, but Ronnarong's sake-based cocktails are extraordinary. Fortunately, I could have it both ways: I noticed something called 'Thai hot toddy' on the menu, a comforting concoction of black pu-erh tea, sake, and some other ingredients. Ginger was in there too, I think. Joel and I absolutely loved this drink, and I'd highly recommend trying it on a chilly winter night.

We each started with Spicy Thai soup, and I really appreciated that when I ordered mine without mushrooms, they came back to ask me if it was ok that there were mushrooms in one of the other dishes we had ordered.

Spicy Thai Soup: hot and sour broth with shrimp, mushrooms, lemongrass, and lime leaf ($5)
For the meal, we split four small plates. With the tea, two soups, and complimentary shrimp chips, it was a perfect amount of food.

We always get the Asian broccoli, a perfect vegetable side dish to add a somewhat healthy touch to the meal.
Stir-fried Asian Broccoli - sauteed with oyster sauce ($6)
The Tasty Pork BBQ - a simple, light dish - lives up to its name.

Tasty Pork BBQ - roasted pork with spicy sauce, onions, and cucumber ($7)
Thai rolls - standard but good.

Thai Rolls - crispy rolls (chicken OR vegetable) ($6)
 Our favorite: the Paradise Beef. Get this no matter what (unless you're a vegetarian).

Paradise Beef - ancient recipe, marinated then dried, deep fried upon order ($6.50)
We've been fully pleased with every visit to Ronnarong: excellent, friendly service, great food and drinks, and very fair prices.

After dinner, we headed back to PA's Lounge for the show. Stroamata opened with a lovely set (think soundscapes somewhere between rock and techno with dreamy vocals floating on top), and Joel's band was up next. First, I shot some photos...



Dave plays the "trumpbone"
...and then I became Rachelephant!

Mighty Tiny closed the show. We've seen them a bunch of times; they consistently put on a ridiculously fun, intense show that can best be described as "circus rock". Creepy masks, interesting instrumentation, little bits of marionette-like choreography - awesome.

In summary:
  • Explore Union Square.
  • Get the Paradise Beef and Thai Hot Toddy at Ronnarong.
  • Support local music: check out Stroamata, Somerville Symphony Orkestar, and Mighty Tiny.
Ronnarong on Urbanspoon

Ronnarong Thai Tapas Bar

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

A Fishy Fundraiser: Get Seafood and Support Stem Cell Research!

As you might know, in my "real life", I'm a science writer. (Well, last year I finished a science journalism master's program and I've done a small bit of freelance work, so I guess it'd be more accurate to say that I'm a recent addition to the world of science writing.) In September, I began working at the Stem Cell Program at Children's Hospital Boston in a role that gives me a chance to do some science writing in addition to managing the program's website and social media. It's not often that there's crossover between my science and food writing, but today, there's a fundraiser I really want to share with you!

For the past 15 years, Legal Sea Foods has been running a holiday season fundraiser benefiting Dr. Leonard Zon's innovative zebrafish research. (The Zon lab is part of the Stem Cell Program.) To learn more about the zebrafish research – and to meet Casper, the transparent zebrafish! – check out this video.

When you buy a Legal Sea Foods gift card between November 1 and December 31, 2010, a portion of those proceeds support Dr. Zon’s continued zebrafish work. The zebrafish, which has a genome remarkably similar to our own, is a very useful research model for blood diseases such as leukemia.

“Legal Sea Foods has been a wonderful partner over many years and has inspired me to do interesting work with fish,” said Dr. Zon. “The output of that funding and collaboration has been the discovery of new cancer genes and a better understanding of how blood stem cells could be used therapeutically. [Legal Sea Foods CEO] Roger Berkowitz has a wonderful sense of science and has helped me not only with the science but also with organizational issues and aspects of the stem cell program at Children’s Hospital. It’s just been a wonderful partnership, and I have a great respect for Legal Sea Foods and for Roger Berkowitz.”

Over the past 15 years of this holiday gift card program, Legal Sea Foods has raised a cumulative $950,000, and Berkowitz hopes to reach $1 millions this year. Help him – and help us! – reach that goal while giving your family and friends the gift of seafood this holiday season.

If you’d like to make a direct donation to the Stem Cell Program, please visit our giving page for more information.

Monday, November 1, 2010

The Launch of BostonFoodBloggers.com

This is kind of a "meta" post; if you're not a food blogger, you might be bored.

Boston(-area) food (and drink) bloggers are wonderful, talented, and above all, enthusiastic. Late this afternoon, I unchecked the "private" button on a little site I had been putting together, Boston Food Bloggers. I sent a launch email to the 85ish bloggers whose emails I could easily track down, and I sent out a tweet, and within minutes, I received countless emails and tweets from people wanting to get on the blogger list and share ideas for ways to improve the site. Even as I'm writing this post, more emails are coming in. I knew there were a lot of blogs around here, but I had no idea there were so many...and they all look wonderful. I haven't had dinner yet. Why am I torturing myself by looking at your blogs?

For now, the site consists of (a) a mega (and growing) database of Massachusetts food and drink blogs with author names and Twitter/Facebook links where available and (b) a slightly out-of-date events calendar. Many new features are coming soon, and I hope to start organizing some meet-ups in the near future!

Thank you all for your support, and I look forward to building BostonFoodBloggers.com - with your input - into a site that helps us all connect, learn, and grow. Feel free to pass the word along on Twitter, your blog, word of mouth, etc. and let me know if you have any ideas for the site!
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