Closing a chapter

The last weekend of summer is upon us. On September 1, Boston will make the “great migration.” Homes will appear to have regurgitated their furniture onto the streets as inhabitants play musical chairs and move to new apartments in the city. At the same time, all the students will come pouring back and clog the city’s arteries with their moving trucks and unnecessary amounts of dorm “necessities.”

This is the first September of my life that I will not return to school. I graduated last December, and still cannot believe that chapter of my life is over. Watching all the students come come marching (or grumbling) back to academic obligations makes me realize how much I miss school.

Photo of the Baldwin School

Let’s be real, I knew I’d miss school the minute my final class period ended. Being handed my diploma was like sticking a knife through my day planner. I’ve always loved school, from beginning to end and everything in between.

Since I went to a Catholic grade school, “back to school” never entailed shopping for clothes, but it did mean decorating and wrapping my textbooks in brown paper bags, and, of course, purchasing a new set of Gel pens. High school meant pouring over my reading lists for the upcoming year, and reading half of them before the term even began. My high school years were filled with dance parties in the hallway, dress up days, scavenger hunts, ugly blazers, Slip ‘n Slides on the soccer field, ringing gongs, and a plethora of other fun and bizarre traditions that can only be understood if you attended an all girls high school.

Baldwin Gates decorated

At the same time, high school was serious business –sleepless nights, endless term papers, day-long exam periods, and so many “well-rounded” extra-curriculars that we all graduated as perfect spheres. I was a well-oiled machine by the time I reached college, arriving early to every class, perched on the edge of my seat during lectures, fueling my excitement with cup after cup of coffee.

As much as I loved school, and continue to miss it now, graduating has given me the opportunity to do all sorts of things I wasn’t able to do before. For one, this blog. Two, starting to make a significant dent in my bucket list. A few successes from this summer include:

Writing 

I’ve been published!

Global Business Hub

Reading

I set out to read ten books this summer. Although this is a slight diversion from my original list, I will have completed a total of ten by the end of this weekend.

Girl With a Pearl Earring

We Live in WaterTinkersAnd the Mountains Echoes

TransAtlantic

AmericanahThis Is How You Lose HerThe Thing Around Your Neck

The Virgins

Hygiene and the Assassin

Discovering

Photo of kayaking on Charles RiverPhoto of NantucketPhoto of NYCPhoto Philly "LOVE"Photo of railroad tracks

And simply enjoying

Photo of hammockPoolsidePhoto cherry tomatoesMiacomet Beach

It’s been a beautiful summer, and I’m planning on making Labor Day the best weekend of summer yet. But each season brings new opportunities and possibilities. School or not, I’m ready to fall in love with my favorite season all over again.

Living the #Sweetlife

Living in a city, it’s impossible to keep track of all the new restaurants and business –opening, closing, renovating, or changing locations. It’s like if you don’t walk down a certain street for a few weeks, or even walk on the wrong side of the street, you can completely miss all the gems staring you right in the face.

Photo Sweetgreen Boston

When I finally noticed the new Sweetgreen on Boylston (after it had been open for two months) it hit me like a punch in the face. How did I not know about this place? I wandered in on a Thursday afternoon and have been smitten ever since (as in, I went back again the next day).

Photo Sweetgreen interior

Sweetgreen is an upscale, fast-casual eatery offering organic, farm-to-table salads, wraps, and yogurt. While you have the option to “create your own” their menu features eight pre-designed salads  and one signature salad each month, boasting all the best flavors of the season.

 The August Salad

Photo of August salad

Mixed greens, local peaches, basil, toasted almonds, ginger goat cheese, balsamic vinaigrette.

Their featured drink for August is a wonderfully refreshing Blueberry Basil lemonade. They also have a Fro-Yo flavor for the month, Dark Chocolate. (Which I haven’t tried. I’m more of an ice cream kind of girl). Other salad options include the Earth Bowl with warm grains, the Misoba salad with soba noodles and sriracha, the Kale Caesar, and an omega-3 power punch, the Guacamole Greens (my day-after selection).

Guacamole Greens

Photo guacamole greens

Mixed greens, roasted chicken, avocado, cherry tomatoes, and red onion, cilantro jalapeno vinaigrette.

Behind the counter, a board proudly displays the locations of all their locally sourced products –so you know exactly what you’re getting.

Sweetgreen's list of locally sourced products

At the core of the Sweetgreen mission is sustainability. Besides offering an all-organic menu, their interior is furnished with reclaimed hickory, barn board pine, and bowling alley tables. Additionally, their packaging is 100% plant-based. So if the patio is too full for you to enjoy your lunch there, you can take it with you to go –and know that you are leaving a gentle mark on the environment.

Sweetgreen 100% compostable packaging

Sweetgreen doesn’t even waste energy or resources on paper. With their pay-by-phone app, you can have receipts emailed to you. This feature allows you to purchase a quick and healthy lunch without your wallet, and unlock rewards. For every $100 you spend, you’ll earn $10 in credit.

Photo Sweetgreen Rewards

The Boylston Street location is the chain’s first in Boston, with other locations in Philadelphia, New York, and D.C. It is perhaps not the cheapest of lunch options, but eating clean and eating local is worth the cost. Paired with friendly and efficient service, Sweetgreen is my new favorite lunch spot in Boston. I absolutely plan on overdosing on the August Salad for the rest of the month.

Check out this video to learn more about the Sweetgreen story, and how you can live the #Sweetlife.

Getting a grip on vacation

Photo swimming poolThe first thing I read on Monday morning, back on the job after a weeklong vacation: An article on why Americans need to get serious about vacations. According to this article, the average, private sector US worker receives 16 paid vacation days and holidays, but only takes about 12. USA Today reports that the US is the only developed country in the world without a single legally required paid vacation day or holiday.

Chart paid vacations by country

Courtesy of CEPR.net

Workers in France, Spain, and Germany, however, are guaranteed 25 – 30 paid vacation days per year, and report taking all the time they’re given. These countries have higher unemployment rates than the US, but continue to offer generous paid-vacation time, combined with paid-national holidays, despite struggling economies.

According to the TLNT article, I upheld the all-American vacation stereotype: I took one-week. And I was stressed.

Vacation Deprivation by Country

Chart vacation deprivation by country

Courtesy of Expedia

Not the whole time. Not even half the time. But I woke up each day with a compulsive need check my messages, to tie up loose ends, to send just one measly little tweet.

I completed a few tasks that would have done if I were working. I sent a few emails that felt pertinent at the time, but probably could have should have waited until I got back. Even my boss told me, on my day-five attempt to stay in the loop:

 Why don’t you just hold this for a week and do everything next week. You’re on vacation after all.

Why did I feel an overwhelming need to work, while on vacation? Why did I feel guilty for even being on vacation? I don’t feel especially pressured by my job, nor are my bosses particularly demanding. This was all me, convincing myself that I’d dropped the ball on something, without ever actually letting go.

This is not to say that I didn’t thoroughly enjoy my vacation. I had a jam-packed week of catching up with family and friends, eating my favorite foods, seeing my favorite places.

Photo Citizen's Bank Park

Photo Philadelphia skylinePhoto Philly "LOVE"But I think this is a moment where I, and the rest of the country’s working population, need to be honest with ourselves: Is it better to have the appearance of an overachiever, or to actually achieve something? The US is the second-most productive country in the world, but only marginally better than Germany and France –who also offer the most vacation time. If productivity isn’t suffering as a result of more vacation time, it sounds to me like we could all benefit from a little break.

Either way, it’s great to be back in Boston, falling into routine once again. Even if we Americans aren’t awarded the maximum amount of time off, it’s important to maintain a work-life balance. Keep your schedule filled with weekend plans, dinner dates, and time for relaxation. Whether we’re working, on vacation, stressing, or relaxing, we only have so much time. Take a moment to enjoy it all.

Ladies night at L’Espalier

Photo blue crab appetizerPhoto cheese platePhoto dessert

My take: Best of Boston 2013

Photo of August 2013 cover

Courtesy of Boston magazine

I’m always excited when Boston magazine releases its annual “Best of Boston” list. This year, the guide celebrates its 40th Anniversary, and I’ve never been so thrilled to review and discover all the new winners. Although I’ve lived in this city for almost four years, there are always new shops, restaurants, and sites to see. This compilation continues to do three things for me:

  • Reaffirms the greatness of places I already know
  • Unearths new locations to check out
  • Reminds me to GO to that awesome spot everyone’s been talking about already!

From the 2013 list, I concur:

Best Bookstore: Brookline Booksmith

Photo of antique postcard

Courtesy of the “Find of the Week” archive

I work conveniently, dangerously close to this gem of a bookshop. I could get lost for hours between the shelves, boasting their rare titles and colorful spines. Don’t even get me started on the charming kid’s corner tucked in the back, the handmade and locally designed greeting cards, the gorgeous stationary… And the extensive used book selection in the basement, where book signings, author events, and workshops are regularly held. The friendly staff makes a point to connect with their patrons and the Brookline community. Check out the  Find of the Week archive on their website, where they post pictures of items found between the pages of their used books –everything from antique postcards, to long lost letters, to notes scribbled in the margins.

Best New Restaurant (Nantucket): Cru

Photo of Nantucket waterfront

I’m no Nantucket expert, but I had the pleasure of enjoying a breezy, sunny lunch at this beautiful spot right on the water. Really, the location makes it perfect for any occasion, whether it is a quick lunch, lazy, mid-afternoon cocktails, or a decadent dinner. Seated in comfy, yellow striped armchairs next to the window, with a front row view of the docks, I devoured the single best crab appetizer I’ve ever had: Blue Crab Cocktail in a Horseradish Crème. If you’re on the island, just do it.

Best Spanish: Toro

Photo of Toro Restaurant

Courtesy of Just Meat It

Toro is for the adventurous. If you’ve been gastronomically deprived for much of your life, you won’t know what you’re eating. If you’re picky, you won’t want to know. But you’ll love it nonetheless. Tucked in between other, virtually abandoned establishments, this tiny place will be bursting on the coldest of winter nights. Soak in the rustic atmosphere, the exposed brick and wide-plank wooden floors, while soaking up a glass of spicy Rioja. If you’re hesitant to completely blow your palate away, ease yourself in and start with the more approachable Datiles con Jamon (Medjool dates filled with marcona almonds and blue cheese, wrapped in serrano ham) and the Queso Mahon (marinated cow’s milk cheese). Then take the plunge, and follow with the Asado de Huesos (bone marrow with radish citrus salad and oxtail marmalade), and the Corazon (smoked beef heart with romesco).

New to check out:

Best Chocolate: Evelyn & Angel’s 

Courtesy of Mandarina Studio

Courtesy of Mandarina Studio

There are few things I love in this world more than chocolate, which is why I must ask: Why haven’t I even heard of this place? How long have they been there? Why has no one told me? I’ve been a longtime fan of Beacon Hill Chocolates on Charles Street, but if this new competitor is “Boston’s Best” then a trip out to Porter Square is absolutely necessary.

Best New Restaurant: Asta

Photo of Asta

Courtesy of Boston Grub Street

This would certainly be a splurge, but I’ve heard great things about this new hot spot: a high-end concept in a casual setting. Asta offers a playful approach to a purely prix fixe menu, with three-, five-, and eight-course tasting options available.  Constantly rotating and seasonal dishes keep the menu fresh and unpredictable, like a seaweed pasta topped with a mussel foam and a whole squid with black chickpeas.

Best Al Fresco Restaurant: Hamersley’s Bistro

Photo of Hamersley's Bistro  patio

Courtesy of Boston Magazine

Hamersley’s Bistro in the South End is neither new to Boston or the dining masses, but it’s been on my list for awhile.  During my junior year of college, I walked past its elegant “secret garden” patio everyday on the way to my South End internship. This beautiful weather won’t last and, in my opinion, al fresco is the best way to dine. I hope to get on that patio for brunch, dinner, drinks, anything before summer is over.

Why haven’t I been there yet?!

Best Deli: Michael’s Deli

Photo of Michael's Deli

Courtesy of Trip Advisor

I walk past this hole in the wall, and acknowledge the front window plastered with awards and reviews, every day on my way to work. I’m always looking for a good sandwich. I work in Coolidge. I have no excuse.

Best Restaurant, General Excellence: Hungry Mother

Photo of Hungry Mother Restaurant

Courtesy of Gastronomy blog

I generally wouldn’t put “Southern Comfort” at the top of my dining list, but I’ve heard too many good things, from too many people who are near and dear to my heart. I feel like I’m being shielded from a badly kept secret, or missing the punch line of a really obvious joke. Someone, please, enlighten me –let’s go to Hungry Mother!

Best Wine Bar: Belly Wine Bar

Courtesy of Swallow Daily

Courtesy of Swallow Daily

I have been dying to try this place since it opened in Kendall Square last September. They boast an eclectic and unpretentious wine list (check out their current, Grease-inspired Summer Lovin’ list) and an extensive charcuterie and raw bar selection. Another beautiful, brick-laden patio is just the cherry on top. This spot looks right up my alley.

Summer, so far

Screen Shot 2013-07-14 at 11.44.56 AM

Recent travels to Philly and Nantucket, followed by a particularly jam-packed 4th of July weekend put my writing and updates on hold. But now I’m back in Boston to catch my breath (for a minute). It’s been a weekend of “housekeeping” and I thought I’d do the same for my blog. This is the perfect opportunity to check the progress of my bucket list, now that we’re (already?) more than halfway through summer:

  • Write something everyday. Even if it’s just a thought or a Tweet
    • So far, so good! Tweeting all day, everyday at @BtwnLines.
  • Post to this blog at least once per week
    • With the exception of last week…
  • Go kayaking on the Charles River AGAIN
    • STILL NEED TO DO THIS!
  • Spend as much time as possible with my amazing friends
    • Best 4th of July weekend ever and looking forward to more summer fun 🙂
  • Reconnect with old friends
    • Recent reconnections and upcoming date nights scheduled!
  • Go to a wine tasting
  • Discover some awesome new restaurants and bars
    • In Boston, New York, and on Nantucket  –and always looking for more.
  • Wander through outdoor markets on the weekends
    • Found an awesome cigarette tin at the 34th St. outdoor market in New York.
  • Soak up some culture at local museums, parks, festivals…
    • Fenway counts as a park, right? Need to work on this one…
  • Take my cooking to a new level and try some new recipes (like learn to make ice cream)
  • Find the best ice cream in the city if/when I fail at making my own
    • In leaving this goal virtually unfulfilled, I will always be on the hunt for better ice cream (and have an excuse to eat more).
    • Please note: Fresh cucumber ice cream is back at JP Licks for July!
  • Find a few beautiful new places to run
    • Been going the same route for awhile, but want to get out to Jamaica Pond.
  • Read. Lots of articles, blogs, and at least 10 books:

A few of my favorite sites & blogs:

Already read:

    • Girl with a Pearl Earring, Tracy Chevalier
    • And the Mountains Echoed, by Khaled Hosseini (my review)
    • We Live in Water, Jess Walter
    • TransAtlantic, Colum McCann

Currently reading:

    • Tinkers, Paul Harding

On the list:

    • Americanah, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
    • The Cuckoo’s Nest, Robert Gailbraith (aka JK Rowling)
    • Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, Robin Sloan
    • Beautiful Ruins, Jess Walter
    • This is How You Lose Her, Junot Diaz
    • … always open to more suggestions!
  • Do outdoor yoga
    • The Liberty Hotel offers complimentary community yoga classes on Saturdays at 10am! On nice days, these take place outside on their patio.
  • Grow my indoor garden with potted plants and herbs (and keep them alive…)
    • Hayden (by basil plant) is just hanging by thread, but trying to revive him!
  • Take a class: An art class, computer workshop, or even a webinar on finance management
    • If time is of the essence, all my contracts are broken.
  • Discover some new bookstores (preferably indie and perfectly charming)
    • Two adorable bookshops on Nantucket, and again, always looking for more.
  • Walk everywhere and spend as much time outdoors as possible
    • Check!
  • Get completely lost visiting a place I’ve never been before
    • Really, this is not difficult for me to do. I get lost in my own neighborhood.
  • Have several deep and meaningful conversations with the people I love
    • Yes!
  • Do some traveling: Already booked to visit my family twice this summer
    • Back home in three weeks!
  • Take a few moments each day to bask in perfect happiness
    • 🙂

Halfway through summer, and halfway through my list! This is not to say, however, that my strikethroughs indicate a permanent “check.” I absolutely plan to spend as much time as possible with friends, and do more reading, writing, cooking, traveling, experimenting, discovering, wallowing in happiness. And, of course, continue to get lost between the lines.

Friends, food, and the Fourth of July

Photo of railroad tracks

I’m back in Boston after the most enjoyable weekend that took me out of the city and away from the heat. I hope everyone else had a wonderful Fourth of July weekend as well, whether it was a few days on the beach, a poolside barbeque, or watching fireworks on the Esplanade. I realized this weekend that it doesn’t even matter what you do, as long as you’re surrounded by the people you love.

If you’re just out of college, holidays are the perfect opportunity to set some precedents for future mini-reunions and meet ups. When I was in college, I already knew that I’d made friends for life. After graduation, when everyone disperses to different cities with different goals and career paths, it can feel like the distance will cause a drift. This weekend only reaffirmed that my friendships are as solid as ever.

Poolside

And nothing brings people together like food. It is important to nourish the relationships you already have, and make a good impression for new introductions. My friends and I definitely indulged in nourishment, and it only helped fuel our epic weekend. I started mine off right with a backyard barbecue.

One of my go-to’s for summertime get-togethers is this Cucumber Mango Salsa, adapted from Simply Scratch. Refreshing, sweet, and a little spicy, this salsa is sure to win you love and affection from friends old and new.

Gather ingredients.

 Salsa ingredients

Slice cucumbers lengthwise.

 Sliced cucumbers

And scoop out their guts (or your salsa will be too watery).

 Cucumber guts

Lay cucumbers out to dry on a paper towel while you chop up mango & red onion.

Dry cucumbers

Add all ingredients to a large mixing bowl. Add lime juice, salt and pepper. 

 Cucumber kaleidoscope

Stir and refrigerate until ready to serve.

 Mango-Cucumber mix

If you can, prepare your salso day ahead of time for a greater intensity of flavor. I recommend serving with Tostito’s multigrain sccops, but this is also a great addition to salads or alongside some grilled seafood.

Cucumber-Mango Salsa

Ingredients:

  • Cucumber
  • Mango
  • Red onion
  • Lime juice
  • Salt & pepper (to taste)
  • Optional: Jalapeño, avocado,  cilantro

Serve with: Chips, pita bread

Pair with: Salads, tacos, quesadillas, seafood

NOT the same as ice cream

During a visit home last weekend, I watched part of Parental Guidance (2012), a cute but perfectly predictable family comedy. In the film, grandparents (played by Billy Crystal and Bette Midler) make the mistake of buying an ice cream cake for their sugar-deprived grandchildren. Chaos ensues as the children devour the entire Carvel. Upon their mother’s return, the eldest accuses: “Mom, you lied to me! Yogurt is not like ice cream!”

That’s kind of how I felt when I tried this recipe that has bombarded the health boards of Pinterest since last summer:

 Frozen Banana Ice Cream

Photo of frozen banana

Freeze a banana overnight. Peel & chop into bite-size pieces.

Several food/cooking bloggers claim that if you freeze a banana and blend it till smooth, the result will yield a refreshing treat “just like soft serve ice cream!” No additional dairy, sweeteners, or ice cream maker needed. Learning to make ice cream was one of my goals for summer, but I was not quite ready to invest in the necessary equipment. This seemed like the perfect solution.

Photo of blended banana

Blend until smooth.

What I want to know is what sick and twisted health-food fanatic thought that a blended frozen banana could even compare to the rich and silky decadence that is ice cream. Sure, the result looks like ice cream, and the consistency is similar, but this cold, cream-less mush falls short of my snobbish standards.

Photo ice cream

Topped with fresh strawberries & chopped almonds.

Perhaps a blended banana concoction could serve as an adequate alternative for those so unfortunate to suffer from a lactose intolerance or dairy allergy. But it is by no means a substitute.

So do yourself a favor and indulge in the real deal. If you’re local to Boston, head down to your neighborhood J.P. Lick’s. Their featured flavors for June include Fresh Strawberry Rhubarb and Candied Ginger. Or, make a trip out to Toscanini’s Homemade Ice Cream in Cambridge, where they boast unique flavors like Vienna Finger Cookie, Lemon Pistachio, Bourbon Black Pepper, and Earl Grey. Never settle for less when best is at the tip of your tongue.

While I have a few signature locations nailed down, I’m still on the hunt to find the best ice cream in the city. Apparently, it’s not to be found in my own kitchen.