Friday, April 28, 2006

Mexican Worth Its Salsa in Lexington

One of the best things I took away from my time in Texas was an appreciation for good barbecue and good Mexican food. One of the things I've learned in New England is that you sometimes have to be willing to drive for good barbecue and good Mexican.

For the second one, at least, I no longer have to drive further than the other side of my own town. After several long months of suspense engendered by a "Coming Soon" banner, Ixtapa Mexican Restaurant has opened on Mass. Ave. in east Lexington.

Though it's only been open about a week, Ixtapa was already drawing a crowd as we learned last night. (Crowds on a Thursday! Obviously meeting a pent-up demand.) Despite being slammed, the service was friendly and swift (frequent water glass refills, woohoo!), and the menu large and tasty. (That's a figure of speech, btw--I didn't actually eat the menu.) Although many of the items bear a strong resemblance to those at Acapulco's (a small local chain I also happen to like--maybe Ixtapa's owner worked there?), the food was even better-prepared and the service friendlier. (For instance, despite the crowd, the owner and hostess both made a point of asking us how we enjoyed our meal, making sure we had a take-out menu, and asking us to return soon.)

I had the Shrimp Monterey (garlic, butter, mushrooms in a fabulous sauce), Jim had tasty pork carnitas, and The Boy chose chicken mole, with a rich sauce we ended up scooping onto our rice. (Jim's motto: Never give up a sauce!) Also, excellent chicken wings with just the right hint of spice. Nice margueritas, too. And the queso is white, as real queso (without the orange food coloring) was meant to be.

Aside from Indian food, Lexington is not exactly known as a hot-bed of ethnic cuisine (please, people--Vinny T's and Bertucci's do not count as ethnic). And maybe Mexican isn't exactly Nepalese (or even Guatamalan--mmm, plantains...), but it's good stuff when prepared authentically. Very good stuff.

Ixtapa--thanks for coming to my town! But one question: Have you ever thought about serving real barbacoa, Chihuahuan style? (Anyone who doesn't know what real barbacoa is, email me and I'll let you know. It's way, way better than it sounds.)

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Happy 1st Anniversary to ... MEEEEE!

One year ago I started this blog with this post. At the time, I boldly declared that my blog wouldn't be about roller coasters (SFNE is an acronym for Six Flags New England, as well as the wording of my own coinage). And I've stuck to that pledge. No roller coasters. Just life, love, and clams in the bluest of blue states (with a few side trips) in the pursuit of musings on what makes New England so f&%*$#g New England. (Plus some stuff on my family and other odds and ends. Sometimes a girl's just gotta write.)

According to my stats, I've written more than 275 posts. (Jeez, can I talk or what?!) I'm now proud to declare myself a Massachusaweenian (my husband's term for a person from Massachusetts, 'cause there doesn't seem to be any other). Although I'm not really a newcomer to New England anymore (this summer marks my fifth year), I'm still treated as a virtual newbie by all you unto-the-seventh-generation types. But that's okay. Part of the fun of being a newbie is seeing old things through new eyes. (Okay--middle-aged eyes. Ya got me.)

It's been a pleasure hearing from my readers (yes, commenting is welcome) and on occasion even meeting fellow bloggers. There are a LOT of us out there, so the fact that anyone reads me is a treat. I'm grateful to you all. And thanks to anyone who's given me a shout-out in his or her blog (special gratitude to Adam G. at Universal Hub) or linked to me in Bloglines--you're all cool in my book.

So, where do we stand, one year later? Fried clams still good, anti-gay marriage groups still bad, Battlestar Galactica and Veronica Mars still frakkin' awesome, good BBQ in New England no longer an oxymoron, loving the weather any time but mud season still TOTALLY SFNE.

Gotta stop now--getting a little misty-eyed, and The Boy wants microwave popcorn. I'm hoping I'll be around for a second anniversary--so let's check back here, same time next year. In the meantime, keep reading, tell your friends, and stay blue!

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

How Did I Miss Out on This?

My mom took me to college--six long hours from home in the hills of Virginia (Hokie! Hokie! Hokie! Hi!)--with all love and good wishes, but somehow I don't think it occurred to her to avail me of services like these, as reported in today's Globe:
To ''ease the transition between home and campus life," the Ritz-Carlton Hotels of Boston have launched a service that will help families book chauffeured sedans, deliver fresh-baked cookies prepared by hotel chefs to dorm rooms, and do students' laundry.

''Campus Concierge" services are available to guests of the Ritz, where a deluxe room or executive suite is $599 a night. The hotels will arrange campus tours, help with moving into dorms, and let parents custom-design gift baskets to deliver to students.
Should I feel disappointed? Should I call my otherwise fabulous mom and say that I now have "issues" with the fact that I had to do my own laundry in the dorm and actually--lord help us--walk around campus? And where are my freshly baked Ritz cookies, huh? Huh?

Check Out "Purple Ink"

If you haven't already done so, get yourself over to "Purple Ink," where Ms. Fraulein posts about life in Boston with a very nice husband, very cute toddler, and a very literary turn of mind (don't miss the "Friday Lit" entries--she's mad about Virginia Woolf, hence the URL).

She also has some astute views on politics, in true liberal Mass resident fashion (love that she calls He Who Must Not Be Named our "Chimp-in-Chief").

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Beware the Lone Diner with Space Issues!

Wonderful day yesterday--the weather, the company. Took my son to see that Star Wars exhibition at the Museum of Science with a friend and her nephew (go quickly if you haven't--it closes April 30). Afterwards, The Boy and I met up with my husband at Hahvahd Square for burgers at Mr. Bartley's. As usual, I got the "Skip Gates"--teriyaki burger with a pineapple slice, so juicy the bun gets soaked and you have to use a knife and fork.

One thing that's nice about Bartley's is that if you're alone or not terribly hung up on your personal space, the long center table is open to anyone who wants to sit there, no waiting. (Kind of like counter seating at a diner.) Most people eating alone are steered to the long table, especially during busy hours. The three of us didn't want to wait and apparently aren't hung up on our personal space, so we sat at the end and ordered.

A young woman--let's call her "Lone Diner"--came in after us and sat down a few seats from my son, leaving a couple of empty seats between them. She then proceeded to put her purse and coat on the seat next to her. At first, I thought LD was waiting for someone, but then she ordered (macaroni and cheese), pulled out a textbook of some sort, and ate. In other words, she was trying to preserve her personal space at the expense of another diner.

But the server was too smart for that. Soon enough, a couple--a mom and college-aged son, by the looks of them--came in. The waitress politely (but with the teensiest bit of an edge to her voice) asked Lone Diner to remove her coat and purse from the empty seat so the newbies could sit across from each other. The mom and son proceeded to get into a little argument and left without ordering. Someone came and sat next to me (in the mom's spot), but the son's chair remained empty.

LD, apparently aware that our waitress (I wish I'd caught her name--she was really good) had an eye on her, wasn't ballsy enough to put her coat and purse back. But she made a bit of a show throwing her arm over the empty chair while studying and eating, as if she were going to be joined by someone any minute so stay away from that chair. By the time she left, you could tell the waitress was just the teensiest bit fed up with LD's sense of entitlement about her personal space.

For the sake of the long-suffering hosts and waiters of Mr. Bartley's, I recommend that the LDs of the world grab one of those little tables at the Au Bon Pain down the block if they have "space" issues. On the other hand, for me (a compulsive people watcher), it was like getting dinner and a show, so come on in!

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Funeral Party Songs

Several years ago, I worked as the marketing director for a small symphony in Texas. Fun work, interesting people, beyond-lousy pay. I was one of the only (maybe THE only) person on staff who had no background in classical--or to be precise--"symphonic" music, since "classical" correctly denotes a point in time, like baroque. But I digress.

I once got into a bit of a friendly argument with my boss, Judith (a double bassist).

She was preparing to adopt a little girl from China, and hence was in one of those "oh my God, I'm going to have a human being to care for" moods and had not only made out a will, but had written up incredibly detailed instructions for her funeral, should the need arise. (She was--and as far as I know, still is--perfectly healthy.)

Her choices of funeral music ran to the somber, the sober--you know, the whole Pachelbel's "Canon" thing.

"Alison, you have a son. Haven't you ever thought about what you'd want played at your funeral?" she asked.

"Absolutely. At the very least, the greatest rock song of all time, 'Twilight Zone' by Golden Earring. Plus, 'Layla'--but it has to be the real version by Derek and the Dominoes with the piano and the birdsong, not that lame acoustic version Clapton did later. And plenty of Dire Straits, U2, maybe some Barenaked Ladies. 'Gimme Three Steps' by Skynard. 'When Doves Cry.' 'Smells Like Teen Spirit.' Something to dance to."

(Note: This conversation took place in 1997, so I'd add a lot of stuff to the list now: plenty of Coldplay; just about anything by Keene; "Unrequited" by Alanis; "Eleanor" by Low Millions; that new song "Unwritten" by Natasha Bedingfield--how can you not love a song with two hooks?; "Elevation" by U2--not written in '97; some Beck; a bunch of songs from the musical episode of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer"; "Lose Yourself" by Eminem; stuff from a Canadian band, the Trews. I could go on. The list grows yearly. You get the picture. And never when I'm in a bad or morbid mood--only when I hear a kick-ass song on the radio.)

"But you can't play that kind of music at your funeral!" she yelped. "Funerals are sad occasions. The music should be... appropriate!"

"Well, I wasn't thinking 'funeral' so much as 'after-life party,' with plenty of music and good food," I explained. "I want to be remembered as someone who loved music, loved to sing along--loudly--in the car, knew the lyrics to thousands of songs, loved to dance, and never felt like she'd really gotten a lot older than 20, though of course that's the plan. To get a lot older than 20, I mean." (I was in my late 30s at the time.) "I want people to remember me with joy."

"But that's just...just...undignified!" she yelped again.

"Well, hey, you do what you want at your funeral, and I'll do what I want at mine. You have a funeral, I'll have a memorial service and dance party. Different strokes, baby!"

I don't think I convinced her, but hey, what's the phrase? "It's your funeral." That's it exactly.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Am I Enough of a Material Girl to Measure Up?

Decisions, decisions....

Do I make my car payments this month or go see Madonna in style?

And if I invite a few friends along, another question arises: Do I pay my mortgage or go see Madonna in style? I mean, at risk of ruining my credit rating, I could hang with the cool crowd, all of whom will no doubt become my best friends forever. (Granted, I am a bit concerned that an aspect of the package is "ambience" and "The room will be decorated in a Madonna theme, with casual group seating or mingling in standup areas around the bar." What exactly is a "Madonna theme"? The mind races.)

Whatever shall I do? Why must life throw many terrible choices at us? Why can't things ever be simple?

Monday, April 10, 2006

Whole Foods Meets Whoa-burn!

I hit the new Woburn Whole Foods Market yesterday, $10-off coupon conveniently in pocket. I'd been watching them build it for months (it sits in front of the Toys R Us, in place of a Shaw's).

All WFMs are pretty nice stores, but this one is NICE. They hand you a little map of the place when you walk in. (For which I'm grateful--as a regular at the Bedford WFM, I was completely disoriented at first.) As of yesterday, the produce department boasted 152 kinds of conventional and organic fruits, veggies, fungi, etc. (No, I didn't count them all. I know this because it said so on a sign.) All healthy, all good.

Then, just as you're about to make a commitment to healthier living (who wouldn't want to eat five-a-day with this bounty?), you run smack into the new chocolate/candy center. Wildly expensive ($45 a pound!!) handmade chocolates side-by-side with $2 pecan turtles. And a coffee bar. And--even better--a gelato and sorbet bar. Dulche de leche gelato--even better than it sounds.

Then there's the olive bar, the expanded cheese selection, the expanded prepared food counter, the expanded salad bars (including special Asian and Italian sections), and a dessert bar. Sushi, of course. And a new fish and chips (made to order) counter. Because it's grand-opening week, they were also doing a lot of sampling (though that's pretty much S.O.P. at most Whole Foods.)

Being as it's Whole Foods, many things are priced in the "just this once" category, although you have to admit that the house brand, 365, is pretty reasonable. And once again, I must sing the praises of Eden Brand Organic Cannellini Beans, a steal at $1.59 a can--you can practically make a meal out of a can, with a little olive oil and some garlic and crushed red pepper flakes. But I skipped the $14/can tuna.

I know it's pricey, and I know it's overboard on one version of "healthy" (you still can't buy diet soda and there's no Splenda at the coffee bar, but you can buy calorie-laden baked goods, for instance). But, still, there's room for beauty in this world, and that includes our food. Food to sigh for is nothing to sneeze at.

Much as my bank account is cringing in fear, I have to say: I'll be back. After all, I have at least 10 other flavors of gelato to sample.

Friday, April 07, 2006

I Lost on Jeopardy!, Baby*

Three years ago today, they broadcast my appearance on Jeopardy! The actual event had occurred the December before, so I already knew how it turned out.

I lost.

It all came down to the timing. What you can't see as a home viewer is that there's a light that comes on as soon as Alex Trebek finishes a question. Buzz in before the light comes on, and you're locked out for one-and-a-half seconds--an eternity in Jeopardy!-land. Buzz in too late, and you won't get your shot.

The guy who ended up beating me was a retired lawyer from L.A., and he apparently went and sat in the studio audience (it's free--show up and they'll let you in at the Sony Pictures lot) and watched the timing. There were many times I knew the same answers--MANY TIMES--but damn! that guy was good on the buzzer. I did pretty well (though I totally froze on the Final Jeopardy! question), but there was no way I could out-buzz that guy, may he rot in hell.

Nevertheless, I take away from the event some good memories:

--I spent five days in L.A. with my mom (a Jeopardy! contestant from 1974, in the Art Fleming days!), and we had a great time. She'd never been to California before--we took a bus tour, went to Warner Bros. Studio, and had lunch with the daughter of one of her best friends. Mom makes a super traveling companion.

--I was able to conjure up some pretty obscure facts from my brain, about Vitamin K, Horace Greeley, and Richard Nixon. Who knew I knew that stuff?

--I met some really nice people, some from the Boston area (a popular place for contestants), and Mom and I had dinner the night of the taping with a woman from Maine and her mother.

--I got on Jeopardy!, and even though I lost, I beat out nearly 50,000 contestants to be one of only 500 who appear yearly, which makes me finally understand that whole "It's an honor just to be nominated for an Oscar" thing.

Finally, some advice for anyone dying to get on the show: All contestants believe they did worse than they did. For instance, I was extremely nervous, but it didn't show up on TV the way I thought it would. So relax and enjoy your 22 minutes-plus-commercials of fame.

Better yet, do what I did. The day of the broadcast I had outpatient surgery, so when I watched the show, I was flying high on painkillers. My friends and family told me I did great, but thanks to the percoset, I really didn't care. That's
the way to watch your national television debut.

(*Post title courtesy of Weird Al's wonderful song, which is a parody of the Greg Kihn Band's somewhat more serious near-breakup song, "[Our Love's in] Jeopardy.")

Thursday, April 06, 2006

David D. Got There First

Yesterday's's news page reported the following item: "Anna Paquin and Breckin Meyer will costar in Blue State, about a young Democrat who follows through on a promise to move to Canada if George W. Bush got reelected."

Let's all remember that David Drucker, of David D's Loud Murmurs really did vote with his feet, leaving Cambridge behind about a year ago to move to Vancouver. Does Hollywood owe Dave a royalty fee of some sort? Worth pondering.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Forget the Snow! Time for Ice Cream!

I've lived here for more than four years now, and I must admit I've become pretty assimilated. For instance, tonight, as the snow was gently wafting over the burbs, my husband and son said they wanted ice cream. I'm still adjusting to daylight savings time (exhaustion has overtaken my every thought), so I suggested picking up some Ben & Jerry's on the way home from our tasty dinner at Sichuan Garden II in Woburn. (Amazing mushi pork and beef war bah, by the way.)

"It's just as fast to stop by Bedford Farms," said my hubby. "We'll get it to go if you like."

Other than my creeping fatigue, I didn't bat an eye at the thought of heading to an ice cream stand while the snow fell. Heck--the calendar says it's spring, dammit! That means ice cream at an outdoor stand! We joined several others who stood patiently, literally shivering while waiting for our orders to be filled.

New flavor, too--chocolate mousse. Mmmm.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Daylight Nightmare

Well, not nightmare exactly. But this whole "spring forward" thing, while good in some ways--I got back from the grocery store at 7 p.m. tonight and it was still light out--also sucks. Because not only did I "lose" an hour of sleep this morning (is sleep ever really lost? Or do we just misplace it?), but tonight it's 11 p.m., my body thinks it's 10 p.m., but tomorrow I will have to arise at 7 and--well, do the math--I'm not getting 8 hours of sleep tonight. Which I would dearly love.

And because my cleaning service ladies are coming tomorrow (my biggest luxury--an every-other-week thing), I probably should get up earlier to make sure the house is ready for them. (Yes, I clean up for the cleaners--doesn't everyone?)

Sigh. I hope those farmers or cows or children waiting for buses or whatever are happy now.

You Should Be Reading This, Too

I've been on a bit of a memoir kick lately, so I was pleased to see in today's Books section of the Globe "Local bestsellers" list that number 5 on the nonfiction paperback list is Jeannette Walls' The Glass Castle. I've written about this book before, but it bears a second mention.

Walls, the "Scoop" columnist for MSNBC, climbed out of the direst poverty in the hills of West Virginia to carve out the life she has today. Her parents appear to have been simultaneously truly loving and grossly irresponsible, allowing their children to go days on end with little or no food despite having the resources to provide for them. Throw some mental illness in the mix, and you get some hair-raising episodes. And yet Walls--who, along with her siblings, realized at a fairly young age that she'd need to leave her parents to survive in this world--holds an abiding love for her mother and father. They're her parents, after all.

An amazing story, beautifully told. Take a cue from your fellow Boston-area readers and keep this one on the local bestseller list.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

I Really Need to Go to Watertown More Often

...if only to go to Sevan Bakery, which is filled with too many wonderful things, all of them (as far as I can tell) at reasonable prices. Besides the Armenian breads and pastries, preserves, cheeses, and so on, they have wonderful dried fruit. I've never had dried nectarines before--heck, I didn't even know they existed--and now I've decided they're permanently on my "must-have" list.

If you want to spend a bit more money per pound for your goodies, walk across the street (Mt. Auburn St.) from Sevan to Fastachi, which has freshly roasted nuts and trail-mix combos, as well as incredible chocolates and other candy. I'm already envisioning a pre-holiday visit in December for gifts. There's a range of goodies in all price ranges: The cherry-and-almond dark chocolate bark is wonderful (at $26 a pound, we splurged on a whole 4 ozs.), but the tri-flavored caramels we found in a decorative basket for about a buck apiece were also tasty.

Oh, and lunch at New Ginza on Galen St. was excellent as well. Despite the rain, a very good day.