Friday, January 25, 2008

Florida to Ohio to Australia

The time in Florida flew by. Lipe and I had one last dinner together at Mezza Luna in Neptune Beachthe night before I left. It’s a cozy Italian joint with standard pastas and pizzas and a killer dirty vodka martini. We ordered a bottle of Australian red and toasted to adventures to come!

Our last lunch together was at a Angie’s Subs, a (not-so) hidden gem in Jax Beach near my old apartment. Subs are cheap cheap cheap and they claim to serve the best iced tea in Jacksonville. Waits are long long long but the décor is surfer-y and sort of ghetto (surfer ghetto, that will probably be a typical design aesthetic in Australia?). It’s the kind of place where you sit down, look around at the clientele, and suddenly feel too old, too pasty and too chubby to be hanging out with all the skinny tanned young’uns. Hey, I still get carded at bars so I can at least hold my own with the 20-year-old “in” crowd.

After our lunch at Angie’s it was off to the airport and goodbye to Lipe for five weeks! Lucky him, he got to go to perpetual summer in Sydney and I had to head back to Ohio (where it’s literally been snowing nonstop for seven days). He’s since arrived safely, found an apartment, made some friends (including a BC alum he met on Bondi Beach), and started classes at University of New South WalesAustralian Graduate School of Management. Not too shabby!

For those of you who are still confused about what I’ll be studying, I thought I’d post the link to the University of Adelaide/ Le Cordon Bleu Master of Arts in Gastronomy program. If you’re interested, check it out. It’s "a unique program for people with a passion for food and drink and a desire to understand the history and culture of food and drink." It's for people like me! Bonus points: Adelaide is a beautiful city in South Australia, famous for its food, wine, and numerous festivals. It’s a stone’s throw from the beach to the west and surrounded by wine country to the north, south and east. Can’t wait to learn and explore and meet my classmates and eat tons and tons of yummy food… Life just isn’t half bad.

Until I leave in mid-February, I’m hangin’ with the fam in Ohio. Ma and pa have forced me into culinary slavery so I’ve been whipping up some comfort classics for them almost every night – recipes and photos to follow. I’m also rediscovering the joys of pizza and Italian American food (Ohio has the best of both!) at the many restaurants in the area, and learning a thing or two from my aunts who REALLY know their stuff when it comes to delish food.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Plane, Train, Automobile, Man-Carriage, Zip-Line…

Anyone who knows me knows I don’t drive. There’s actually a funny story behind my driving history, but I’ll save that for another post. The fact of the matter is, I just haven’t needed to drive in any of the places I’ve lived. I always had friends who carted me around in Ohio. Boston has a great public transport system. Exchange students in Argentina weren’t allowed to have cars, San Sebastian, Spain was a tiny little town where I could walk anywhere in 20 minutes or less, and the trains in Japan are ridiculously efficient and far-reaching. I love that I don’t drive and never really have – think about how tiny my carbon footprint is, and how much money I’ve saved in car payments and gas and repairs!

Since I don’t drive, I’ve been forced to take some creative modes of transportation throughout my travels.

While living in Japan, Phil and I alternated between bicycle (this was a dangerous affair)…

Man-carriage (a bit bumpy, but quaint)…

Scooter (fast)…
Walking…

Lots of walking…

And train (especially thrilling when crowded and smelly in summer).

When we visited Thailand we jetted around on a tuk-tuk.

While our main transportation during our backpacking adventure through South America was bus, we tried to utilize local modes of transportation whenever possible. This meant traveling by horseback in the Andes of Peru

By zip-line while crossing dangerous rivers in the Andes

By a boat made solely of reeds in the Islas Flotantes of Lake Titicaca

By a more modern boat in the Islas Ballestas in Paracas National Reserve off the coast of Peru

And by charter plane in Nazca so as to take full advantage of the view of the Nazca Lines.

By the time I got to Buenos Aires I was so darn tired from all that adventure transportation that I just had a friend carry me everywhere.

The Tube is the obvious choice in London

And European trains are efficient and cheap so I took one from Rome to Pompeii with a buddy…

And with Lipe from Amsterdam to Antwerp (this was a boring ride, and my bosom is quite comfy).

But trains aren’t the only way to get around in Amsterdam! The multitude of canals makes the water bike a great alternative…

And if you diet before visiting you can even travel by car.

Since I do spend most of my time in the States and don’t have a car here, I’ve needed to kayak through the lakes of the Adirondacks

Take a trolley around New York state (sorry, I’m kissing my pretend boyfriend here, trolleys are very romantic, you know)…

And hike the dizzying heights of Mt. Monadnock.

I’m also a very big help when friends are driving me around here in the States, just don’t ask me to get behind the wheel!!

However, I do believe that one of the greatest joys an American can experience in our country is the Road Trip. The diversity in our country is never more apparent than when plowing through six states in one day. On our Dec 26th trip from Ohio to Florida, the temperature increased by 50 degrees F in one day and we got a hefty dose of local color at our pit stops. It’s also easy to witness that which unites our country on such a road trip. Highway food signs all point you to the nearest McDonald’s and you can’t drive 20 minutes without a Cracker Barrel tempting you at the next exit.

Here’s the best dose of American local-color I’ve ever seen, from a one-stop shop in upstate New York.

Phil knew we were fast approaching the Florida state line when we began seeing signs for Shoney’s and Church’s Chicken (instead of the Denny’s and KFC I’m used to up north).

Once we finally reached our destination at his parents’ lovely house on the beach, we were happy to see that they didn’t plan on feeding us takeout from Church’s, or breakfast at Shoney’s at $2.99. Over the following days, we gorged ourselves on Laurie’s lasagna, turkey, standing rib roast, broccoli casserole, zucchini bread, etc etc etc. You’ll never go hungry when Laurie’s around! We celebrated Christmas with the ever growing fam…

… and I insisted Laurie take a rest and let me cook up my famous paella for the crowd.

Paella a la Sánchez

2 pounds chicken thighs
1 tablespoon smoked paprika
1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
2 teaspoons dried oregano
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
3 Spanish chorizo sausages, thickly sliced
1 Spanish onion, diced
1 red bell pepper, diced
5 garlic cloves, minced
1 bunch flat-leaf parsley leaves, chopped
1 (15-ounce) can whole tomatoes, drained and hand-crushed
4 cups short grain Spanish rice
¼ cup white wine
6 cups warm shellfish stock**
Generous pinch saffron threads
1 dozen littleneck clams, scrubbed
1 dozen mussels
1 pound jumbo shrimp, peeled and de-veined
½ lb calamari, cleaned and cut into rings
1/2 cup frozen sweet peas
1 roasted red bell pepper, cut into ¼ inch strips
Salt and pepper
Lemon wedges, for serving

Mix paprika, vinegar, oregano, salt and pepper in a small bowl to make a thick paste. Rub paste on chicken thighs and let marinate for at least an hour.

Heat oil in a paella pan or wide, shallow skillet over medium-high heat on the largest burner of your stove. Saute the chorizo in the center of pan until browned, then remove and reserve on plate. Add chicken skin-side down and brown well on all sides. Remove chicken from pan and reserve on plate with the chorizo.

In the same pan, sauté the onions, red pepper, garlic, and parsley for 3 minutes on medium heat. Add tomatoes and cook until the mixture caramelizes a bit. Fold in the rice and coat with the vegetable mixture. Stir-fry 3 to 5 minutes, until the rice is shiny and a tiny chalky kernel is visible in the center of the grains. Add wine and cook until wine is nearly evaporated. Pour in warm shellfish stock and saffron and simmer for 10 minutes, gently moving the pan around so the rice cooks evenly and absorbs the liquid. Add chicken and chorizo back to the pan and simmer another 10 minutes. Add the clams, mussels, calamari and shrimp, tucking them into the rice. Let the paella simmer, without stirring, until the rice is al dente, for about 15 minutes. If the seafood isn’t cooking quickly enough, cover the pan with a lid or aluminum foil.

During the last 5 minutes of cooking, add the frozen peas. Remove from heat and let rest 5 minutes, then garnish with parsley and lemon wedges. Serve paella directly from the pan with crusty bread. Buen provecho!

**if you don’t have shellfish stock on hand in your freezer, try simmering your reserved shrimp shells in 6 cups chicken broth as you’re prepping the vegetables and seafood (about ½ hour should do it).

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

One more try

On the morning of December 21st Philari was absolutely determined to leave Boston and embark on the 10 hour journey to Columbiana, Ohio. The Volvo was packed and we were already a day behind schedule. So we bundled up, said our goodbyes to the place, hopped in the car… and only made it 30 miles outside of the city.

Here’s why. Turns out our trusty 1993 Volvo 240 wasn’t so trusty at all. Also, I like to think that I am a citizen of the world and therefore travel and live lightly so I can pick up and move my life at any moment, following the wind wherever she may take me… Well the Volvo’s windshield wiper fluid dispenser thingie (I don’t presume to know auto mechanic lingo) broke and the brake light burnt out and I had so much crap shoved into her that her backside was nearly scraping the asphalt and Phil had zero visibility out the side and back windows. We may be smart in a lot of ways (I just can’t think of any right now) but c’mon, how the heck did we think we were getting anywhere in those conditions?!?!?!?!

We had to postpone our trip another day. It started to feel like we would never reach Ohio.

Luckily, the illustrious Meg (Phil’s sis) and her husband Carl live only 40 miles outside of Boston, so we scooted to her house, parked there for the day and unloaded three quarters of our crap into her garage (thanks, Meg!). I made a double batch of Ina Garten’s Chicken Pot Pie for our hosts to make up for our imposition. I highly recommend you do the same.

Once we finally got on the road to Ohio, the 10 hour drive was completely uneventful. Actually, a UFO could have landed on our car and little purple aliens could have sheltered us for 8 hours during an atomic bomb explosion in upstate New York for all I know, since I slept for at least nine hours of the ride. Poor Phil. We spent a nice Christmas with my fam. I was disappointed because ma only had five Christmas trees decorated this year (she usually has six), but I got over it once I heard what was on the menu for Christmas dinner: fried turkey! Yes folks, you read that right, a 15 pound turkey, brined, injected, and fried in peanut oil. I, too, was skeptical, but Tom had the most flavorful and moist breast meat I’d ever tasted and his skin was crispy and was so brown it looked like he’d been on vacation in Cabo for a month, basking in the sun.

You do need some special equipment to embark on such a turkey journey – outdoor propane cooking stand, 30 quart stockpot, meat injector (not items you can buy at Williams-Sonoma. Try the gourmet section of the hardware store). And beware, as the process can be a bit dangerous. Rumor has it that folks have burned their houses down trying to do this indoors or under a carport. Who said cooking was boring?

So, for anyone gutsy enough to give it a go, here’s my dad’s special fried turkey recipe.

Dad’s Gutsy Special Occasion Fried Turkey

One 12 to 15 pound turkey
1 pound dark brown sugar
1 pound kosher salt
2 tbsp peppercorns
3 bay leaves
1 ½ to 2 gallons peanut oil
1 bulb garlic, roasted
8 tbsp unsalted butter (1 stick), room temperature
1/2 cup olive oil
Salt and pepper

The day before frying, place turkey (sitting up straight, not lazily reclining) in the stockpot. Fill the pot with water until your turkey is covered by an inch. Remove the turkey from the water and mark the water level with a marker. This is your oil line, and you need to make sure you do not fill your pot with any more oil than necessary.

Add brown sugar, salt, peppercorns, and bay leaves to the water in the stockpot. Heat over low heat, stirring, until sugar and salt are completely dissolved. Allow liquid to cool completely. Once cool, place turkey in the liquid, cover, and refrigerate overnight.

About 5 hours before frying the turkey, make the roasted garlic injection. In a mini food processor, blend the roasted garlic and butter until very smooth. Season with salt and pepper. With motor running, add olive oil in small increments until the marinade is smooth enough to inject. Once the marinade reaches the correct consistency, spoon it into the tube of the turkey injector syringe. Remove turkey from brining liquid and dry completely inside and out. Insert the needle of the injector deep into the turkey at various locations, distributing the marinade throughout the bird. Salt and pepper generously.

Heat the peanut oil to 350 degrees F. Make sure the turkey is room temperature and completely dry before perching him on a turkey cradle and lowering him slowly into the hot oil. Cook turkey 3 to 5 minutes per pound, or until a meat thermometer inserted into the deepest part of the thigh reads 170 degrees F. Carefully lift the turkey out of the oil and let stand for at least 15 minutes before carving.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Eating Around the World in Seven Days

Well I didn’t plan to hit all the continents in a whirlwind gastronomic tour of Boston, but when writing my first blog entry I realized I ate and drank around the globe in my last week without ever leaving my city!

I jetted to South America and gorged on Argentine beef and empanadas at Tango. I took a five minute redeye to Seoul and enjoyed yakiniku at Koreana and then jumped a bus to India for my work holiday party at India Pavilion. Africa was just a three second jaunt down the street from my office so I visited Ethiopia and Eritrea in the same afternoon by eating at Asmara. It wasn’t difficult to cross the Atlantic by T to Europe so I enjoyed gnocchi at Italy’s Antico Forno and decided to extend my layover on the Iberian peninsula so I could pig out at Casa Portugal. North America is right in my own backyard (obviously) so Woody’s Grill & Tap satisfied my cheesy American pizza craving and accompanied it with a big ole glass of local Sam Winter Ale. And yes, I even made it to Australia in the same week when I won a bottle of Australian red wine in the Yankee swap at my work holiday party!

Boston has many great restaurants and I had high hopes of visiting them all. But alas, there is only so much time in this world and there is only so much (or little) money in my bank account so I didn’t visit nearly as many as I would have liked. However, a few friends requested my wish list so I thought I would post it here for them. I’ve included restaurants I did have the privilege of visiting to make it a more comprehensive list – and I know I’m missing more than one so let me know if you have any suggestions!

Cari’s “I wish I coulda eaten at all these places before I left Boston” list (by neighborhood)

South End

Aquitaine, B&G Oysters, Caffe Umbra, Charlie's Sandwich Shoppe, El Triunfo, Franklin Café, Hamersley's Bistro, Icarus, Metropolis Café, Mistral, Orinoco, Petit Robert Bistro, Sibling Rivalry, Stella, Toro, Union Bar & Grill

Downtown, Kenmore, Back Bay, Beacon Hill & The Fens

Aujourd’hui, Brown Sugar Café, Chau Chow City, Elephant Walk, Excelsior, Great Bay,Grill 23, L’Espalier, Lala Rokh, Les Zygomates, Meritage, Mistral, Mooo..., No. 9 Park, Osushi, Pigalle, Radius, Sel de la Terre, Smith & Wollensky, Top of the Hub, Woody’s

North End

Bricco, Carmen, Lucca, Mamma Maria, Pomodoro, Prezza, Restaurant Bricco, Sage, Taranta, Terramia, Via Matta

Inman Square, Cambridge

East Coast Grill, Koreana, MuQueCa, Ole, Oleana, Punjabi Dhaba

Cambridge

Chez Henri, Craigie Street Bistro, Cuchi Cuchi, Helmand, Rialto

The 'Burbs

Blue Ginger (Wellesley), Café Brazil (Allston), Dali (Somerville), El Cafetal (Brighton), Fugakyu (Brookline), Machu Picchu (Somerville), Oishii (Chestnut Hill), Tango (Arlington), Tu y Yo (Somerville)

Monday, January 14, 2008

Psyche!

(Pretend it's December 20th)

You thought we were on the road out of Boston, didn’t you?

Unfortunately, the morning of December 20th Philari arose to a massive New England snowstorm.

There was just no way we were going to be able to make the 613 mile, 10 hours 3 minutes trip from Boston to Ohio in such conditions in our humble 1993 Volvo 240, especially since our snow tires were in storage 40 miles away. So we decided to take advantage of an extra day in the city. We stuffed said Volvo with all of our worldly possessions. It felt like a stolen day since it was unplanned, and we felt invisible since our friends thought we’d left bright and early. Because our internet connection was turned off, we felt oddly disconnected. Our phones didn’t ring all day. These factors combined, along with the falling snow, gave the day a magical feel and I embarked on a winter photo expedition in our neighborhood.

Phil and I decided we’d do dinner one last time in the North End, Boston’s quaint Italian district, to celebrate our last night in the city that had provided us with such wonderful friends and memories in our six years there. Antico Forno has always been his favorite of the many eateries in the neighborhood, so we went with tradition and enjoyed a quiet dinner. Bostonians don’t tend to venture out to restaurants on freezing, snowy Thursdays, so we got the best seat in the house and thoroughly enjoyed our meals. We started off with an involtini di melanzane, eggplant stuffed with ricotta cheese and baked in tomato sauce until the eggplant is melt-in-your-mouth tender. It was a winner, but I still have yet to find an eggplant dish that lives up to my Silky Summer Eggplant Gratin so I thought I’d provide the recipe for you. I look forward to this dish more than any other when the tomatoes are just beginning to ripen in my garden and the eggplants are merely purple pinky fingers.

I know Boston is the furthest from summer it could possibly be, but as you all know I’ll be moving to Australia soon and it’s summer there now so as you can see the recipe is completely appropriate from my point of view. I got the idea of using Swiss cheese for this dish, instead of the typical mozzarella or ricotta, from a Wolfgang Puck recipe, and I love the stringy cheesy texture and flavor it imparts. Wolfgang is the man!

Silky Summer Eggplant Gratin

2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 cloves chopped garlic
Red pepper flakes (to taste – I like the sauce spicy!)
2 pounds summer tomatoes, cut into 1 to 2 inch chunks
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Chopped fresh summer basil
2 pounds small eggplants
¾ cup shredded Swiss cheese

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Butter a 2-quart baking dish.

Place the tomatoes in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Cook, partly covered, until the tomatoes release their juices and begin to break down, about 10 minutes. Run tomatoes through a food mill fitted with the smallest blade. This will peel, seed, and puree the tomatoes for you so you don’t have to do all the extra work!

Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a saucepan over medium-high heat and add the garlic and red pepper flakes. Saute 30 seconds then add the pureed tomatoes, salt and pepper. Cook, stirring often, until tomatoes cook down slightly, about 15 minutes. Taste the sauce – if it’s too bitter, add a pinch of sugar – and correct seasonings. Stir in the basil and set aside.

Meanwhile, slice the stem and flower ends from the eggplant and peel the skin lengthwise in alternating strips about ½ inch wide. Slice the eggplants on the bias into rounds ¼ to ½ inch thick. With the heel of your palm, press down on the eggplant slices to slightly flatten them (this way, they won’t absorb too much oil and make the casserole a big oily mess).

Add 1 tablespoon olive oil to a large sauté pan and heat over medium heat. When the oil is hot, add the eggplant slices in an even layer. Brown on both sides, about 5 minutes per side, adding more oil as necessary. Drain eggplant on paper towels.

Arrange half the eggplant slices in slightly overlapping concentric circles in the bottom of your baking dish. Season with salt and pepper and add half the tomato sauce. Add the next layer of eggplant, topped with the rest of the tomato sauce, then layer on the shredded cheese.

Bake casserole for 45 minutes, or until eggplant is meltingly tender and cheese is brown. If the cheese begins to brown too quickly, cover the dish with aluminum foil. Serve gratin with fresh chopped basil and garnish with olive oil, if desired.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Bye Bye, Boston

Hi friends, hi fam, hi randos who might someday happen upon this blog and hence find themselves smack in the middle of my rando life! Thanks for dropping by to check out my blabberings on travel, food, and topics completely unrelated to either of those but which I find intriguing and/or interesting and/or funny and/or delicious and/or hickish (there will probably be many of the hickish posts while I’m here in my home state of Ohio until I jet to Australia in mid-February. You’ll see what I mean when I relay stories from the police blotter in the Salem News).

I know I promised many of you that I’d get this sucker up and running ASAP – ASAP was probably like a month ago. Oops. I have excuses, I swear!!! Let me start at the beginning… waaaaaaay back in early December 2007 when I called Boston home, when I ate snow for breakfast and cursed at the CT1, when Whole Foods was merely a skip and a jump away and Philari daily dodged the catcalls from the huddling mass of paparazzi loitering at the corner of Mass Ave and the SW Corridor. Oh, how my life has changed since then!!!

Here's the view from my apartment in Boston.

But, I get ahead of myself. Since I neglected to begin my blog when I promised, I now must suffer the punishment of submitting all of my backlogged thoughts and photos for the world to see (and laugh at). So, there will certainly be an influx of posts to this blog over the next several days. The posts will be dated today, but will really be stories from when they really happened, which will not be today, but some day before today, and I’ll try to make it clear which day you’re supposed to imagine you’re in, which will not likely be from this year, but from the last year which is the year which ended when the current year began and I found myself here in Ohio where I am parked for the coming days (which will also be covered in this post, but not today). So as you can see, there will be a fair bit of thought involved on your part if you’d like to live viCARIously through this so blog don’t think you can just sit back and drink a dirty vodka martini straight up with extra olives and passively browse through my posts! Stop being lazy and make me a martini, too!

Ok, I’ll stop with my crazy talk and not-so-quickly cover my last week or so in Boston. Looks like this is going to be my first ever Super Post (not to be mistaken with this Super Post) and will probably turn into a multi-segmented post.

Much in the same way I use my birthday as an excuse to have multiple celebrations over the span of at least two weeks (a la Jackie Donahue), I used my planned December 20th departure from Boston as an excuse to spend too much money eating at restaurants on my “definitely must eat at before I leave Boston” list, to have and attend parties, and to go to girlie sleepovers in Watertown. Actually, now that I think of it, that sounds like my normal life, with or without a reason to celebrate!

Here's me having a good ole time in the snow in the backyard, and Philari at our going away party:

I also forced myself to pretend that I didn’t mind that freezing cold, icy winds, and mountainous snow dunes and subsequent melted snow/ grime puddles that accumulated ... well, just about everywhere the week before I left. I kept saying, Wow, isn’t the snow pretty! Man, I’ll miss the change of seasons! Phil, do you want to make snow angels in the yard and stick our tongues out to pretend to catch snowflakes and have a snowball fight?!! But really I was thinking,Pleeeeeeease get me out of here and send me to Australia. Pretty please?

In all honesty, I had a great last few weeks in the city. I was super busy saying my goodbyes to all my favorite buddies and that made me feel all warm and tingly inside because t h at meant that I had a lot of people I loved in Boston and that just can’t be a bad thing at all.

So here are some shout outs to my peeps up in that town that’s for some reason associated with beans and where people like to drop the “r” in certain words in order to affix it to the end of others (an idear that’s hahd to grasp if you’ve never been to Beantown).My boss and friend Susan M. made me cry three times – THREE! – in the span of 11 days. She made me cry more times than all of the other times I cried in the same time span combined! And of course two of those times were in front of crowds, first at my last SIF event and then at the RC holiday event, so MANY more people witnessed me cry during those two times (my rough guess is 130 folks) than ever before in my life! But that attests to how much I loved m y job of the past two years and especially the people I was fortunate to work with. The other crying episode happened when I was super bundled up with two winter hats and a scarf up to my eyeballs walking home alone in the freezing cold from our last lunch together at The Elephant Walk , so I’m pretty sure that was a solitary event with no confirmed witnesses (but now I guess you all know. Oops, I spilled the bean(town)s).

Here's Susan making me cry at our holiday work party.

I didn’t spend all my time crying, though. The other Susan in my life threw a rockin’ sleepover fiesta, complete with tacos and guac and Coronas and margaritas and yes folks, refried beans! The highlight of the evening was surely dessert. Sure, there were brownies nuked in the micro topped with vanilla ice cream, but they paled in comparison to the gastronomically delightful Nerds Rope brought by Jess. Such a delicacy does actually exist and can be purchased at your friendly corner store right here in the good ole U.S. of A. All in all, itwas a night filled with good chats, great Australia advice from Betsy, and muchas calorias en mi belly. Colon closed parenthesis.

On the itinerary and constantly on my mind for the weeks preceding the move was our virtual “house sale.” But, it wasn’t very fun and quite frankly stressed me (and Phil to the extent that such a chill boy can get stressed) out to no end so I choose not to talk about it here. Next topic.

Philari got all spiffed up in their finest and dodged the paparazzi in order to attend the holiday party for Phil’s company, CSN Stores. It was at the Boston Children's Museum and that was fun because it meant we got to eat and drink a lot for free and play with bubbles and balls and shop in mock grocery stores with plastic lettuces. Apparently we were “reinforcing all the most important skills of scientific inquiry as [we] observed, measured, compared, discussed, and worked together to explore the world around [us]”, but I think we just got a wine buzz and played with bubbles and balls and shopped in mock grocery stores with plastic lettuces. We also got to hang out with our way cool friends Malouk and Betsi, and Ken and Carrie. My favorite part of the night was the cab ride home, Bets. ‘Nuff said.

We also got to hang out with our favorite newish Boston friends, Amyand John, a few times before leaving. Man, they rock and we are so glad we met them! They love good food and especially good wine, so fittingly they had us over for a champagne brunch in their Cambridge digs. Phil helped them break in their new cast iron skillet and we whipped up some mean make-your-own omelettes accompanied by Amy’s delish poppyseed and pumpkin muffins. We also went to a cute little wine bar on Newbury Street called Piattini so Amy could impart her vast knowledge of wine to me. We ordered four wine flights of vigoroso and vibrante rossos and I must say that the wines stole the show, outshining the little plates (get it, piattini?) of food. However, I really enjoyed the Salsicca e Polenta, creamy polenta topped with sausage, caramelized onions and roasted red peppers. Hopefully some of Amy’s nose and palette rubbed off on me so I don’t go traipsing around Australian wine country making a fool of myself asking for directions to Boon’s Farm! We’re gonna miss you guys!

Phil with Amy & John at our wine picnic in Hull summer 2007.

Well one of my oldest and bestest friends Susan (the Suz of the sleepover) and her new fiancée Scott (who meets my approval, by the way) took me and Phil to one of my favorite restaurants in Greater Boston – Tango in Arlington. Yippeeee I get excited thinking about it! It’s not so much that the food is blow me away amazing, but it holds a special place in my heart and on my palette since it’s the only place I found in New England that serves Argentine food, straight up, replete with an Argentine owner and waiters and a big bottle of chimichurri sauce on every table and A FRIDGE FULL OF QUILMES and lots of meat and even milhojas on the dessert menu. I only visited the place three times in the seven years I lived in Boston since it’s difficult to reach without a car, so my visits were spaced out by like over two years. But I chatted in Spanish with the owner Ricardo the first time I went, telling him about my year living in Mercedes, and the following two visits he immediately remembered me and Suz and offered free port and dessert to our party. So I can’t say enough about this restauro since it hits a nostalgic place in my heart and has a wonderful owner and straight up grilled meat, gaucho style. I could go on but this post is already a novel. Just go there - you won't regret it! I do want to thank Suz and Scott for a lovely evening and for hauling a big BIG load of our junk from Boston to Ohio… we couldn’t have done it without you guys, honestly, and we heart you!

Here's Suz, Scott and Phil fueling up before our hike up Mt. Monadnock in New Hampshire this summer. On the menu were ham & cheese empanadas, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, wheat thins, carrots, Gatorade and various fruits of the forest.

We also heart our friends Matty Steins and May for throwing our official going away party at their sweet place in the South End the weekend before we left.

Now, that Matty Steins knows how to throw a party. There were beverages laid out for the party. Good beverages, cuz that’s how he rolls, of course. There were candy and spices and tricolored pastas. And, halfway through the night he brought out freshly made insalata Caprese, served on platters of the purest gold! His musical selections were magical and encouraged cross-mingling between guests. I could have danced all night. He also invited an A-list crowd, only the best for Philari. And, lucky for us, all the super A-listers (like, the Brangelinas and Bennifers of Boston) were in attendance. Betsi and Malouk were stunning, Matt wearing North Face and Betsi in a creation of her own design.

Amy and John arrived fashionably late. That’s when the party TRULY started.

Just when I thought the night couldn't get any better, we were honored with a special appearance by the one and only Kate R, who makes every party a pahtay and is the only gal I know who can drink cheap, warm vodka, straight up, without making a face.

Phil especially enjoyed himself. The party was so amazing he quietly closed his eyes, then he drifted to sleep on Matt & May's couch. He dreamt about maybe throwing a party, and just how great that would be.

We had the best time at your party. Fo real, thanks Matt and May.

On a professional note, I’d also like to give a shout out to my friends and colleagues at RC/SIF, where I spent two fulfilling and fun years of my life. Special shout-outs to the original gang, Susan, Andrew, Julie, Anand, Andy and Fred – my, how we have grown! I would recommend keeping a careful watch on Anand. I mean, who knows what trouble he’s going to get into away from home base, and also keep an eye on Fred. Even though he’s always right under your noses, you’d be surprised at the trouble he causes when he thinks no one is looking! Here's me with the troublemakers at the 2006 South End Jazz Fest:

The newer additions to the team, including the NS folks, were an amaaaazing bunch, and sure knew how to have a fun time. I loved everyone I worked with and was grateful that they waited for me for two and a half hours at the Beehive on my last night in the city because a certain bouncer wouldn’t let me in – to my OWN going away party!!!! Grrr. I won’t forget it!

And, of course I couldn’t leave out Ms. Emily, the superstar who has since replaced me at the forum. She is definitely the right person to take SIF to the next level and I’m looking forward to all the SIIC emails to flood my inbox so I can keep track of her and make sure she’s doing her job correctly and not screwing up. Although I am sure that the stellar female SIF team, led my Susan and Mary, will continue to be a smashing success.

Speaking of the stellar SIF team, I was able to kill two birds with one stone and have a lovely lunch with Susan, Mary, Julie and Emily while at the same time crossing another restaurant off my list. We ate at the yummy Casa Portugal in Inman Square, Cambridge. I’d been wanting to try this place since I moved to the city since I heard it was tasty and cheap – my two most important criteria, especially for a lunch place. Three of us ordered the carne de porco a portuguesa, marinated pork cubes with fried Portuguese potatoes in a brown sauce, because we thought it looked authentic. I enjoyed the dish and it reaffirmed my belief that I could certainly be a vegetarian if not for the tender meaty goodness of the pig.

Another lunch, another valued colleague, another restaurant off the list – Tania treated me to lunch at Asmara, an Ethiopian/ Eritrean restaurant in Cambridge’s Central Square. Tania used to be a regular here so she had some great suggestions on what to order. She highly recommended the Asmara Tibs, tender beef in a spicy red sauce with onions, green peppers and chilies. If you’ve never eaten Ethiopian food before, it’s a nice change from the norm and a great excuse to be messy and eat with your fingers and smear delicious red oily goo all over your mouth and cheeks – on purpose or accidentally. I love the communal aspect of using the injera bread to grab at whatever looks good while chatting away with good friends. Prices are a bit high here for lunch in Central Square, especially since Picante is right next door, and Pressed is right across the street and there are tons of all you can eat Indian buffets in the ‘hood for $6 a pop (Gandhi, Shalimar, India Pavilion), but I’d definitely recommend it if you’re in the mood for something a little saucy (in more ways than one).

It seems too good to be true to be able to hit THREE gems in ONE day, but that’s just what I did! The same day I had my goodbye lunch with Tania at Asmara, my oldest gal pals from college and I hit up Koreana, a jewel of a Korean (creative name, don’t you think) restaurant halfway between Central and Inman Squares in Cambridge. I was stoked to see they had long tables with grills in the center, just like in Korea, where you grill your own meats and veggies and seafood and wrap it all up in a lettuce leaf with one of a bajillion condiments provided such as kimchee and kongnamul and wakame and Korean potato salad and spicy pickles! Oh my! My crew of girlies, Jacks and And and Aud and Susie let me order for the table since I sounded like I knew what I was talking about and we ended up with an impressive spread of galbi (marinated short ribs), bulgogi (thinly sliced rib eye), and shrimp along with edamame, fried gyoza, green salads with that yummy house ginger dressing you find at any respectable Asian restaurant in

America, and miso and wakame soups galore. What a feast! It reminded me of the restaurant my Japanese friend Yoshiko took me to in Korea Town in NYC when she was visiting the states this past summer. Here’s a photo of the food from that excursion.

And Yoshiko reminding me that Korean food is peaceful.

Koreana lived up to my expectations and made me feel like I was right back in Seoul with Lipe! Highly recommended and another great communal place to go with friends, and affordable if you realize you don’t have to order one entrée per person – they definitely provide enough to share.

After our bellies were full of Asian goodness we were happy that Susie wanted to seek out dessert somewhere in the area. We stumbled upon a little hidden delight, City Girl Café, in Inman Square, and it was just what we were looking for and more! It pleased everyone, as it has a wide selection of desserts for the sweet tooths (Suz and And) and serves beer and wine for those who would prefer to take their calories in liquid form (obviously, Jackie and Cari). We capped off our girls night out with this fabulous find and I said goodbye to my girlfriends…. Colon open parenthesis. You guys promise you’ll pour one for the homies (homies = Cari) when you have your next gals night out?

The gals at Aud's wedding.

My dining bonanza that night of course wasn’t the only time I hung out with my Jacqueline, Jackie Chile, Jack*, Jacks before leaving. We squeezed in some major hang out time in the weeks leading up to my departure and even sealed our relationship with friendship piercings. Yes, we made permanent our eternal devotion to each other by piercing our noses together at a funky place in Allston called Stingray Body Art – very clean and professional, if anyone is looking to obtain a piercing any time soon.

If you look closely you can see the sparkly shimmer of my cubic zirconia nose stud!

So now I think of my Jacks every day I look in the mirror, or when I painfully rip out my stud when I’m putting on a shirt. Pain = love, in this case. After our piercings we crossed the street to take part in a Jackie/Cari tradition from the past – drinks and greasy food at The Kinvara, I mean The Draft. We were shocked and dismayed to discover that our hole in the wall haunt at the end of Harvard Ave has turned into… an upscale sports bar?! What?! Clean pool table instead of grimy dance floor? Flat screen TVs instead of Miller High Life banners? Scantily clad promo girls instead of hot buff bouncers from BU? I’m afraid this is a classy joint nowadays, and Jackie and I struggled to find meaning amongst the middle aged men obsessing over the NE Patriots game playing in the background. We found our meaning in the form of buffalo chicken wings and greasy French fries.

Here we are in Chatham in Cape Cod this fall. How cute are we?

We also hung out in less drastic ways. Phil joined Jackie and I for lunch at our FAVORITE restaurant in the ‘hood around our apartment – Woody’s Grill & Tap in the Fenway/ Symphony area. They are one of the few places in Boston with a real brick oven and their pizza is MILES above any other I’ve tried in the city. I mean, there’s really no comparison as far as I’m concerned. They always have a great selection of brews on tap, including some local options, and I love the laid back collegy atmosphere. This has always been Phil’s and my go-to place, and it always hits the spot! We celebrated with pizza and beers (Jackie, I won’t tell your boss) and I of course couldn’t say bye to Jacks just then so we decided we’d meet for drinks the next evening.

Meeting for drinks turned out to be buying a magnum of red wine at the corner store and sitting on the floor of our depressingly empty apartment the night before we were scheduled to leave. This was budgetarily and symbolically appropriate for the crowd in attendance; namely, Jackie Phil and me. We’d sold most of our furniture and didn’t have a chair left in the place so we sat on the dirty living room floor (we’d sold our vacuum three days earlier). As luck would have it, we had been unable to sell two mismatched white wine glasses and a martini glass, so we didn’t have to drink our wine out of cupped hands. We of course reminisced about the old days (Jackie is the reason Phil and I met that fateful day six years ago) and planned Jackie’s future trip to Australia (get on it, Jacks!). We all cried a little (except Phil, he doesn’t cry) and said our goodbyes, with Jackie traipsing off into the snowy Boston night with a Dali print under one arm and a blond wig under the other….

Well, this is the end of the shout outs, and the reasons I will miss Boston. Bye bye.