Wednesday, July 23, 2008
Harvard (Square) for Toddlers
Although I love Cambridge, Harvard Square isn't the first to come to mind as a FoodieMommy destination. Chain store and restaurants exist with limited parking and too many tourists. There are exceptions: luxurious hot chocolate at Burdick's, the delicious and creative food at Upstairs on the Square, the independent Harvard Bookstore (with used children's books downstairs) and Curious George and Friends (with a great selection of books for kids).
This past Tuesday, though, made me rethink my image of the Square as I took my infant to the Harvard Square Farmer's Market. Each Tuesday from June to October, between 12:30 and 6:00 multiple vendors set up shop between the Harvard Science Center and Sanders Theater. I have talked about the fun of taking children to the farmer's market before, but this was a very different experience from, say, the Natick market.
Here, amidst the gorgeous produce, was a bounty of gourmet food (all locally made), delicious samples and even a demonstration by Steven Brand, executive chef of Upstairs on the Square. He served goat cheese with fresh basil, radishes, strawberries, blueberries and an incredible reduction of balsamic vinegar with sichuan peppercorns.
For kids, there is a nearby fountain, a green space to run, as well as another opportunity to learn that food doesn't all arrive anonymously at the grocery store. Here you can talk to the same person who picked the flowers, collected the honey or ground the chocolate.
I tried and bought the unique salty butterscotch topping (OK...and the dark chocolate AND the milk chocolate) from Shootflying Hill. The owner, Cory Clarke takes the time to include recipes so that you can indulge in the delicious sauces on more than just ice cream.
I read quite a bit about Taza chocolate and, in fact, the samples proved that their chocolate is as as wonderful and unique as I had hoped.
I enjoy Mexican hot chocolate, but the Abuelita brand is always a bit thin. Taza not only stone grinds its cacao beans for a complex texture, but they also keep the roasting to a minimum. Unlike most chocolate from the supermarket, this actually had flavor beyond, well, chocolate. It tasted fruity and rich, while not being cloyingly sweet. I was also immediately addicted to the texture. It does not have the melting smoothness of a Hershey's bar but is almost grainy. That may sound unappealing...until you taste it. It still dissolves in your mouth. Any child would also be as taken as I was by how the food arrived: the vendor also rode up in a bicycle of sorts: Taza transports its goods on massive tricycle!
I stopped at the Flat's Mentor Farm stand. The Farm is actually run by 10 different Hmong families and appears at a number of different farmer's markets around Boston and Metrowest. The range of vegetables, and especially greens, was amazing.
I also appreciated the time the vendor took to explain the difference between amaranth, purslane and pumpkin greens, as well as how to cook them. That evening I sauteed the pumpkin greens with some garlic, ginger and tofu, added some soy sauce, and sesame oil and served it over rice. While I can't say I tasted pumpkin, the greens retained their crunch. I have shopped at the Flat's stand in Natick for 3 years now and have always gotten wonderful bargains on fresh bok choy.
Finally, I had read so much about Fiore di Nonno burrata cheese which is apparently like homemade mozzerella with cream inside. I recognize that it doesn't get much more indulgent than that...but I so wanted to try it. Today, though, they were just selling the mozzerrella.
It was delicious-a perfect balance of salt, a firm texture and yet moist. To prevent the taste from being masked by cold, the vendor suggested that I not refrigerate it if I was going to eat it that evening. This proved to be a great suggestion.
Lastly, perhaps the best part. Maybe I missed it, but most of the metered parking in the Square now has a 1 (or sometimes 2) hour limit. The irony-there are many more spaces. Perfect for a quick trip for some special and tasty treats.