Friday, February 26, 2010

A Must Have for Parents: "Boston Baby: A Field Guide for Urban Parents"

I grew up just outside of Boston. But when I had my first son in 2006, and my second in 2008, I realized that I was completely clueless when it came to trying to entertain two little boys in the middle of New England winters. As I began to discover activities to do and, of course, places to eat with them, I started this blog. In many ways it was meant to fill a void. I struggled to find any resource that was directed to parents of young children, that was up to date, and that included places to eat that weren't chain restaurants.

Ironically, if I had Boston Baby: A Field Guide for Urban Parents, I am not sure this blog would have existed at all. So, I will start by stating two things: first, the Union Park Press sent me a copy of the book to check out. However, the accolades here are purely my own. And, second I am envious of Kim Foley MacKinnon's ability to research and write such a great book. However, MacKinnon's background as the parent of a now 11 year old girl and the editor at Daily Candy Kids Boston gave her the perfect angle to do so.
For urban parents, this book is a gem. However, if you even if you aren't an urban parent, keep reading. One of my favorite aspects of this book is how it both draws attention to the outstanding resources that exist in Boston, as well as in the surrounding areas. In addition, while this is a must have for any new parent, the book is packed with activities for toddlers, elementary age kids and even teens. It is also the perfect size to be tucked into a bag for those days when there "isn't anything to do."

This book goes far beyond any others I have seen due to MacKinnon's ability to highlight many lesser-known gems in the area. She describes everything from museums, to indoor playspaces to beaches such as Houghton Pond in Milton. Even though I have written this blog for 3 years, I had no idea, say, of the existence of the Boston Fire Museum. She also offers details that I haven't previously seen in similar books such as consignment stores; gyms that offer daycare; "Navigating the Public School" jungle and places for children to learn a second language.

Of course I quickly checked out her restaurant section. Again, I loved that despite my familiarity with places to take the kids, MacKinnon challenged me to rethink what I knew. For example, though I had heard of Sophia's Grotto in Roslindale, it never would have occurred to me to bring my toddlers there.

The book is full of the details anyone would want such as location, hours and contact info. However, I also appreciated her attention to bargains and free opportunities. I also was intrigued by the section that lists activities by month so that you can keep track of annual events such as the Ducklings Day Parade in May or the Arts in the Park at the DeCordova Museum in September. Finally, I applaud MacKinnon for keeping not-for-profits, community centers, libraries and independently owned businesses at the core of her book.

So, if you want to purchase the book, it is now available for $17.95 at great booksellers like the Brookline Booksmith, as well as on-line.

But, for a fabulous night out and a great deal, reserve seats for the next Family Dining event at Aura on Friday, March 5th. I have written 3 posts (here, here and here) about how much fun it can be to eat with your kids at Aura. More importantly, Chef Rachel Klein is a talented chef so you can always count on delicious food. But this night, for the same price (40$ for a 3 course meal for adults; kids are a la carte), you get a copy of the book, a chance to meet with Kim Foley MacKinnon and a chance for your kids to do art with the staff of ArtBeat.

Just click here to learn more about the I Love My Boston Baby Night/ Family Dining Event at Aura on March 5th. For other chances to hear from and meet with Kim Foley MacKinnon, you can head to the Blue Bunny Book and Toy Store in Dedham on Thursday, March 11 from 7 p.m. to 8:30. Or, take the whole family to the Regent Theater's 25th Anniversary Celebration on Saturday, March 13 at 10 a.m. in Arlington. If you need more details on any of these events, or to purchase the book, just check out the Union Park Press website.

The reality is that it is so easy as a parent to turn to our "smart phones" to figure out the next activity. But MacKinnon has made the lives of harried parents that much easier by focusing our eyes on all the wonderful aspects of life here in the greater Boston area. That alone is worth buying the book!

Sunday, February 21, 2010

A North End Tour

As much as I love exploring the streets of Chinatown, the North End is another corner of Boston that my husband and I love to rediscover every few months. Sometimes we bring the kids to the New England Aquarium, while at other times we enjoy going on our own, sharing the pizza back at home.
There is a fabulous triumverate of well known pastry places, including Modern's and Mike's. Yet we prefer Maria's Pastry Shop. First, the atmosphere is more personal, less chaotic and we just like Maria herself. We go for three things in particular. First their version of almond biscotti or quarasimali. With just a hint of cinnamon and huge, freshly roasted almonds, the cookies have a balance of chewiness while still being crispy. Next, my husband enjoys the homemade torrone or nougat.
Again, Maria never skimps on almonds and these are nestled in a chewy, white marshmellowy mass. I prefer the sfogittelle or pastry shells folded over sweeteened ricotta with a hint of nutmeg and orange.
At home I warm these up for a few minutes at 350 and eat them for a breakfast treat. But if you can, eat them while they are still warm while eating breakfast right at Marias. My children enjoy her moist blueberry muffins and zuccherati, a crunchy bagel-shaped, sesame covered bread stick. For something special, pick up her cannolis that she fills while you are waiting.
I always stop at a speciality store, prefering Salumeria Italiana for higher end products, such as fresh cheese, meats and Balsamic vinegar. For a wide range of pastas, J. Pace and Sons is easy for one stop shopping. Finally, little Polcaris offers personal service and great prices for everything from chesnut, chickpea and semolina flour by the pound to a range of coffees, nuts and vinegars.

We love the pizza choices in the North End so much that we always buy way more than we need and freeze the rest. We always stop first at Umbertos for their sicilian style pizza covered in browned mozzerella, freshly fried panzoritti (filled mashed potato balls) and arancini (filled risotto balls). They sell out early (by 2:00 pm!) and lines move slowly, but the trade off is very special and very inexpensive treats.

We can't leave the North End without taking home at least one (!) pizza from Pizzeria Regina. Their pizza is our favorite by far, baked in oven built in 1926. The crust is perfection-thick and chewy, covered in a sauce that is just acidic enough and balanced by creamy, shreds of whole milk mozzerella. Because parking can be so tricky, we have also just called in advance and driven by to take a pie home. While it is never as good as when you get it right out of their oven, it is still worth it.

Maria's Pastry Shop, 46 Cross Street, 617-523-1196
Polcaris, 105 Salem Street
J. Pace & Sons, 42 Cross Street.
Salumeria Italiana, 151 Richmond Street, Boston, 617-523-8743
Pizzeria Regina, 11 Thatcher Street, (North End), 617-227-0765
Galleria Umbertos, 289 Hanover Street, Boston,

What is a Weekend Without Pancakes?

Pancakes have long been one of our weekend treats. For the past year, we have relied on a recipe from the cookbook, Bakin' Without Eggs. Although it is really just a simple buttermilk pancake recipe, the absence of eggs is great for a few reasons. First, it means that my 4 year old can eat them without worry of his egg allergy. Second, it couldn't be more convenient as we don't always have eggs in the house. Finally, they are remarkably good-fluffy and moist.

If I am feeling really wild and crazy, I mix it up for me and my youngest son (the almost 4 year old is a pancake purist!) I have mixed in mashed pumpkin and freshly grated nutmeg or mashed bananas and chocolate chips.

However, a few weeks ago I discovered a new favorite using my "Epi" App for my I Phone: Buttermilk Oatmeal pancakes. These are another great recipe for parents. Just mix up the ingredients the night before. (In our family, that means that my sons gather round to measure the flour and mix it while grains fly through the air.) By the morning, you can literally make tender pancakes in minutes. Best of all, they are whole grain and so you can even rationalize that they are relatively healthy! I don't even use butter, and just substitute vegetable oil to make it even easier.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

We Should Be So Lucky: The Rhode Island/Pawtucket Winter Farmer's Market

We should be so lucky. Two years ago they had 10 vendors. By 2009 it was over 30. And this year, the Rhode Island Winter Farmer's Market in Pawtucket can boast that they have over 50 vendors selling food that is truly local. Located in a fabulous building (it was a 19th century mill and is now the Hope Artiste Village), be prepared to spend a few minutes hunting down parking as this market is understandably popular.
First, there is the selection of food. They have many produce vendors.
The week I went (February), there were many types of apples and hard to find unpasteurized apple cider. There were many root vegetables, onions, shallots and greens galore.

I was overwhelmed by the options for free range eggs (including blue ones that were some of the lightest I have made).
I lost count at 5 of the meat and poultry vendors. You can get heritage pork, organic brisket or whole chickens. There are scallops from Stonington or lobster and oysters from Mantunuck.
You can buy homemade queso fresco and yogurt from the Narragansett Creamery. Dessert could be scoops of micro-churned ice cream from Kafe Lila in flavors like white pepper or peony. Owner Karen Pace also offers a wide selection of tasty vegan ice creams.
The Farmstead, an artistanal cheese store in Providence had samples of their amazing cheeses, or, for just $5.00 you can get one of the best grilled cheeses you will ever have.
Still hungry? You can buy some Jamaican turn overs or get a made-to-order crepe from the Creperie.
My recommendation: Don't miss a chance to start the feast off (or end it) with a stop the amazing Chez Pascal Food Truck which has incredible hot dogs and homemade sausages. I followed the suggestion of a customer and loved my homemade pork and bacon-wrapped meatloaf sandwich. It was served on a perfectly squishy roll with spicy fig compote and homemade coleslaw.
In terms of speciality items, I was fascinated by the honeycomb from Aquidneck Apiaries. Head beekeeper Jeffrey Mello explained that he uses no pesticides at all with his bees. He (and his son) also taught me to slather the comb over bread and asiago cheese and bake it at 200 until it melted. I am embarrassed to say that I have already demolished by honeycomb. It tastes like sweet molten lemons and is heavenly. I also enjoyed the samples of Purple Pear of Providence's huge spiced pecans.
If you are aren't already full, you can eat your full of some of the best baked goods around. I have blogged about my love for the 7 Stars Bakery and their fantastic bread. I grabbed a loaf of the cheese bread (which was great toasted with the honeycomb.)
You can buy their bread, and then get more sweet treats from Olga's Cup and Saucer, another fantastic bakery and cafe in Providence.
Finally, you can treat the kids (or yourself) to a cupcake from the Cupcakerie.
You can wash it all down with some of the best coffee I have had. I was first introduced to their coffee by my fabulous friend, Kate. Her sister works at New Harvest Coffee (full disclosure, here, people!), but I instantly was smitten by it.
First, it is all good: Fair Trade, organic, shade grown, and freshly roasted. Better still, at the Farmer's Market you can get a "Pour" of their coffee. In other words the beans are ground and your own personal cup of coffee is created before your eyes. (Great news: if you can't make it that far, you can now also buy New Harvest Coffee at the new Dedham Whole Foods!)
And now, what really persuaded me that the Providence Winter's Farmer's Market is genius: the art. There were musicians entertaining adults and kids as they enjoyed their food. And around corner after corner, there was beautiful art. I am literally already planning to use my November birthday as an excuse to buy some art from painter, Mike Bryce. Think of it as an Open Studios, but arrive ravenous!

Seriously, people, I am not even touching all that they have-relishes, soaps, even homemade dog biscuits.
Just go and see for yourself. For the most updated list of all of their vendors, just click here. I am thrilled that winter market's are starting to appear in Natick and Wayland. But, as I pointed out in my post about Janet Christensen, founding member of the Boston Public Market Association, Janet has been trying to get a Boston Winter Market for years...Maybe it is time for us to push back a bit more?

Lastly, if you have kids and really want to make a day of it, start your day at the Providence Children's Museum. It is pretty fabulous in and of itself. Two other great Rhode Island options: the RISD Art Museum and the Botanical Gardens. No matter what, I can assure you that the drive will be well worth it.

Rhode Island/Pawtucket Winter Farmer's Market, Saturdays, 11:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m., November 7 to May 29, 2010

Friday, February 12, 2010

How I Love Thee Chinatown: A Chinatown Tour

One of my favorite activities is exploring Chinatown. Taking my children gives me a chance to slowly introduce them to the concept that everyone's world view and culture isn't the same. It also allows them to try out new foods, new treats and smells without getting on a plane. The hardest part for me is always trying to find balance between sticking with my favorite places and dishes and trying something new. Here is my short list:

It is hard to resist the Vietnamese restaurant Xinh Xinh for wonderful soups, full of homemade broth. The enormous bowls, topped with fresh herbs and meats are very inexpensive. With fresh rolls, it is a perfect meal. The avocado shake makes you understand how avocado is actually a sweet, creamy fruit. The limeade is both tart and refreshing. The service is always warm, helpful and kind.

One of my favorite dishes is from Taiwan Cafe: mustard greens with tofu and edamame. At lunch you can order this with rice and soup for less than $10.

If I want take out meat, I stop at Chinatown Roast Meat for soy sauce chicken and barbecued pork on beds of rice. At other times, I head to Hong Kong Eatery to sit down to a bowl of broth filled with noodles and an assortment of toppings. On a recent visit I enjoyed the roast pork and dumplings filled with shrimp and pork.

Lu's Sandwich Shop, located in a jewelry store of all places, is great for take out.
I always get a banh mi ( a Vietnamese sandwich in a french roll, filled with a protein, vegetables, spicy mayonaisse and fresh cilantro).
Dessert is one of the many technicolor sweets made from rice flour.

On weekends, our family goes to Hei La Moon or Chau Chau City for Dim Sum, where I get my fill of the tofu in ginger syrup and more steam buns filled with custard or chicken.

I make sure to stop at the C-Mart grocery store before I head home for enormous bags of sticky rice, canned lychees, frozen dumplings and steam buns, pressed tofu, inexpensive soup spoons, bags of rice noodles, Pearl River Light Soy Sauce and Hi Chew mango candies (a cross between Starbursts and delicious mangoes).

What I love most is that no matter how many times I go, there is still more to discover and, of course, more places to eat. I have yet to try the Gourmet Dumpling House, Empire Garden or Jumbo Seafood, among others. Any suggestions?

Xinh Xinh, 7 Beach Street, Boston, 617-422-0501
Hei La Moon, 88 Beach Street, Boston, 617-338-8813
Taiwan Cafe, 34 Oxford Place, Boston, 617-426-8181
Hong Kong Eatery, 79 Harrison Ave, 617-423-0838
Lu's Sandwich Shop, 2 Knapp St., 617-292-1453
C-Mart, 692 Washington Street, 617-988-8118

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Warm Tofu with Garlic-Sesame Sauce

I love the idea of tofu because it is inexpensive, healthy and easy to get. Before children I frequently made stir fries laden with vegetables, peanuts and spicy sauces. But I have yet to figure out how to make a stir fry with children clammoring to help me cook or to watch-it just never seems safe. So, unless I am grilling it up with soy sauce and sesame oil on the Foreman grill, I rarely cook tofu anymore. However, when I watched "Gourmet's Diary of a Foodie" and they featured this dish on a show about Korea, I knew I had to make it. The first time I kept the spices to the side so that my kids could at least have a chance of enjoying it. So what happened? The 3 1/2 year old loved the warm tofu with soy sauce, while my 1 1/2 year old loved the spicy version! I adored how easy and delicious it was. I found the Korean hot pepper at the Super 88/Hong Kong Supermarket in Brighton, as well as H-Mart in Burlington. My foodie friend also bought me some at Christina's in Inman Square in Cambridge. You could skip it, though the taste isn't quite the same without the extra heat.

Warm Tofu with Garlic-Sesame Sauce, Adapted from Gourmet.Com

1 (14- to 18-oz) package soft tofu (not silken)

1 teaspoon chopped garlic

1/4 cup chopped scallion

2 teaspoons sesame seeds, toasted

3 tablespoons soy sauce

1 tablespoon Asian sesame oil

1 teaspoon coarse Korean hot red-pepper flakes (optional)

1/2 teaspoon sugar

Carefully rinse tofu, then cover with cold water in a medium saucepan. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat, then keep warm, covered, over very low heat. Mix remaining ingredients (except tofu). I use a small food processor.

Just before serving, carefully lift tofu from saucepan with a large spatula and drain on paper towels. Gently pat dry, then transfer to a small plate. Spoon some sauce over tofu and serve warm. Serve remaining sauce on the side

I like to serve it with bowls of warm sticky rice for mopping up more of the sauce. You can make the sauce 1 day ahead and chilled. Bring to room temperature before using.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

The Best of Metrowest: Karma Coffee, Sudbury

To me, a great coffee shop is defined by 3 things. First, it has to have rich, dark coffee. Second, since I find it infinitely easier to write in a public place than at home. So, at best, a coffeehouse also needs an atmosphere that makes it tempting to stay and write for a bit (though not at the expense of the owner!) Ideally that means a place to sit, to mingle with others, but also to be able to drink the coffee in peace. As I prefer to visit independent coffeehouses, I have struggled to find a place that fits that definition in the Metrowest area. So, despite how ridiculous it may seem, I typically drive 30 minutes to the Diesel Cafe in Somerville. Now, though, that I have discovered Karma Coffee in Sudbury, I may be able to stay quite a bit closer.
I first tried a bag Karma Coffee last spring. The beans came as part of my delivery of produce and local goodies from Maureen at the Farmer's Cart. The coffee was delicious, but when I heard that Karma Coffee was in Sudbury, I imagined it to be miles from my house. Then, this past week, when I chatted with the woman working the Karma Coffee stand at the Wayland Winter Market, she pointed out that it was located right on the Wayland/Sudbury/ Framingham border. And in fact, just a few miles down Route 20, sitting right behind a Papa Ginos, lies the Karma Coffee House.
I fell in love immediately. A warehouse of sorts, the owner, Dave has expanded his business from just coffee roasting, to opening a coffee house. Thus, this place offers the best of both worlds. You can buy Fair Trade beans (90% of his beans are organic), roasted on site or you can sit, relax and enjoy a cup of coffee. In fact, you can even watch the beans being brought in and roasted.
In addition, if you get hungry, they have scones and croissants from one of the best bakeries: B & R in Framingham. In fact, Dave's coffee is so good that he is now supplying it to a number of restaurants in Boston. I loved the open space, the comfortable seating and the friendliness of the staff.
I discovered it and now I will be back. My only regret-they are only open until 2:00 p.m. and are closed Sundays. One last tip-their sign is pretty small, so just turn right before the Papa Ginos if you are headed West on Route 20.

Karma Coffee, 100 C Boston Post Road (Route 20), Sudbury, 617-283-7373