Quick Guide to the Freedom Trail, Part 2

After a brief hiatus to tend to some life housekeeping and make a brief but wonderful visit to North Carolina’s Outer Banks for my uncle’s wedding, I am back at my desk and ready to tackle the next installment of my Quick Guide to the Freedom Trail!

I hope you’re still with me, and I hope you’re hungry.

We’re starting at the Old South Meeting House, which was the largest building in Colonial Boston, and a hot spot for colonists to gather and vent their anger at England in the years leading up to the Revolution.  Its popularity endures.  On the day of my visit, a service was taking place inside the chapel, while just around the corner, barricades were set up to keep pedestrians from crossing onto a movie set.  Past meets present, my friends.   

Next up is Boston’s Old State House, dating back to 1713.  The Old State House was the first site of British government in Boston and later, the Declaration of Independence was read from its balcony. Today, it houses a museum of Boston history, and stands in stark contrast to its modern urban surroundings.

If you’re hungry you’ll be glad to next find yourself at Faneuil Hall, located adjacent to the popular Faneuil Hall Marketplace, also known as Quincy Market.  Built in 1742 by Boston merchant Peter Faneuil, it was the site of many passionate anti-British protests during the Revolutionary era, including the Boston Massacre.

Today it is home to over 100 shops, 14 restaurants and pubs, and almost 40 food-court style international eateries.  Basically, it’s the one place that should be able to feed everyone, and if that’s not enough, there is also a constant roster of entertainment happening outside in the form of dancers, musicians, reenactment actors, balloon-men, and performing comedians.

The thing that amuses me the most isn’t supposed to be a joke, but one of the restaurants does this thing where they sometimes hand out enormous paper hats to a whole table of people, who actually put them on and wear them in front of everyone.  I tried to be sneaky when I took this photo, but that one gentleman clearly knew what was up….

Sorry, buddy. 

After leaving the bustle of Faneuil Hall and Quincy Market, the trail takes you past the Union Oyster House on the way to the Italian “North End” neighborhood.  The Union Oyster House isn’t an official stop on the tour, but it is America’s oldest continuously operating restaurant, and deserves recognition.

The North End is one of my favorite Boston neighborhoods.  I grew up in a very Italian family, so I feel at home with the smell of basil and marinara in my nose and a container of pizelle cookies tucked under my arm.  The North End is a tight cluster of winding streets, cafes, bakeries, and restaurants bordered by tall brick buildings.  Locals and tourists crowd the sidewalks and streets, and parking spots are as rare as a visit from the Virgin Mary, so visiting the North End while walking the Freedom Trail is a perfect solution.  Fill a bakery box with cannoli, pastel cookies, and tiramisu and enjoy it later on the trail.

The next stop is the Paul Revere House.  It was built in 1680 and is the oldest surviving building in downtown Boston.  Paul Revere was a silversmith by trade, but is better known for his role in the American Revolution through his exaggerated engraving of the Boston Massacre and famed “midnight ride” to warn the Colonial militia that the British forces were coming before the battles at Concord and Lexington.  Revere lived in the house from 1770 to 1800, and today it is operated as a nonprofit museum by the Paul Revere Memorial Association. 

The last stop for today is the Old North Church – Boston’s oldest – which dates back to 1723.  On April 18, 1775, sexton Robert Newman lit two lanterns in the tower, alerting Paul Revere that the British were arriving by sea.  One lantern would have meant a land arrival.  The church is still operational today, and I was fortunate enough to attend my cousin Jaime’s wedding there a few years ago.  It was a beautiful and historical setting.  Just outside the church is the Paul Revere Mall, featuring a statue of Revere on his horse.

I regret to say the sun wasn’t on my side when I took the picture of the tower, but I couldn’t exclude it!

Stay tuned for the final installment, coming up next!

Quick Guide to The Freedom Trail, Part 1

The Freedom Trail is a winding path that runs through downtown Boston and encompasses 16 major historical sites.  Spanning 2.5 miles from Boston Common to Bunker Hill Monument in Charlestown, the trail passes through busy city streets, around several peaceful graveyards, over the Charles River, and aboard the USS Constitution.  For a history nerd like myself, it’s the perfect way to spend a gorgeous Boston afternoon. 

On a recent picture-perfect early fall day in New England, I decided to grab my camera and walk the trail from start to finish, purely for fun, meaning I made the briefest stop at each site.  I didn’t do any special tours or walk around with a headset guide.  This is the Freedom Trail, resident-style.  Are you ready to come along?

When it comes to the American history, and in particular the American Revolution, Boston has plenty to brag about – and it does.  The Freedom Trail is a great way to see a large variety of Boston’s historical sites while offering plenty of opportunities to relax, eat, take photos, and truly immerse yourself in the spirit of our colorful city.

For those that like a bit of back story, we have local journalist William Schofield to thank for the Freedom Trail.  In 1951 he began asking for a pedestrian-friendly method for visitors to experience many of Boston’s historical landmarks. Mayor John Hynes agreed, and by 1953, the Freedom Trail was welcoming thousands of visitors each year.

Some of the sites charge a small fee for admittance, while others ask for donations, or are free, but you needn’t spend a penny to earn a wonderful day on the Freedom Trail.  Actually, if you do have a penny, I suggest saving it for Paul Revere’s gravesite monument (which serves as a makeshift patriotic penny donation site), and if you’ve got more than pennies to spend, you’d be wise to put them towards a delicious lunch while on the trail.

The trail is marked with a red line and occasional ornate and descriptive markers, either in the ground, or on sign posts. The red line is sometimes painted, sometimes made of brick, sometimes bright and bold, and sometimes faint and worn, but like a blood vessel, it’s always there.

I started on the steps of the Massachusetts State House, its gold dome gleaming in the September sunshine.  Designed by Charles Bulfinch and completed in 1798, the State House sits at the edge of historic Beacon Hill and looks down over Boston Common.

From the State House, take the steps down and cross over into Boston Common, the oldest park in the country.  The edge I strolled through wasn’t looking so lovely thanks to construction, but I am sure many of its other 50 acres were beautiful.

Stay straight and you will reach the opening to the Park Street MBTA Station, and on your left you will look up and see the 217-foot steeple of Park Street Church.  The church was built in Boston in 1809 and was the site of important anti-slavery speeches during its early history.

Alongside Park Street Church is the Granary Burying Ground, the first of the Freedom Trail’s burial sites.  It is the final resting place for many notable Boston revolutionaries, including the victims of the Boston Massacre, Peter Faneuil, John Hancock, the parents of Benjamin Franklin, and Paul Revere.

Separated from Tremont Street by a wrought iron fence, the shaded cemetery is crossed with walking paths to encourage visitors to keep off the grass and away from the fragile stones. Revere’s gravesite in particular is commemorated with a chest-high monument; its top covered with a scattering of coins and rocks. 

While there are 2,300 stones in the cemetery, it actually contains an estimated 5,000 bodies.  Headstones were pricey, so family members were buried in the same grave.

The next stop, just a few steps down the street, is King’s Chapel.  Dating back to 1754, the Georgian Era chapel is still in use today as a place of worship.  Its adjoining Burying Ground is another peaceful spot to wander among the faded and beautiful headstones.

Up next is the Old City Hall on School Street, with its statue of Benjamin Franklin.  Completed in 1865, the building served as City Hall until 1969.  The site is also the location of Boston Latin School, the nation’s first public school.  It was founded in 1635, and still exists today in the city’s Fenway neighborhood.

Boston’s Old City Hall is beautiful, and I am sure many a newly minted bride and groom made for a pretty picture as they stumbled through its doors into the sunlight.  Unfortunately, this cannot be said for the city’s current City Hall, which has repeatedly been voted one of the nations, and even the world’s, ugliest buildings.  Sigh.

Moving onto our last stop in Part 1 of my Freedom Trail Quick Guide…

The site known as “The Old Corner Bookstore” on the corner of Washington and School streets was originally constructed in 1712.  It became a literary hotspot in the mid-1800s when it was home to Ticknor and Fields Publishing House, and frequent visitors included Thoreau, Longfellow, Hawthorne, Dickens, and Emerson. 

Over the years it remained in the hands of publishers and booksellers, and was saved from demolition when it was purchased by Historic Boston in 1960.  The site took an odd turn in 2005 when it became home to a jewelry store, but has been vacant since the jewelry store left in 2009.

Well, it was vacant.  On the day of my walk, I noticed something new was about to open…a little something called Chipotle Mexican Grille.

Don’t get me wrong, I love their burrito bowls, but I don’t think the walls of the great Old Corner Bookstore should smell like refried beans or carne asada.  It’s just not right…

Then again, the site is within a stone’s throw of the now bankrupt and belly-up Borders Books, and the one of the spookiest statues in Boston, the Irish Famine Statue, so maybe Chipotle will be right at home.

Alright friends, stay tuned for Part 2 – I promise it will include a lot more culinary mentions!

Brooklyn in August | Birthday Trapeze Edition

Thank you everyone for all of the birthday wishes, and thank you especially for making my tribute post to my mom one of my most popular posts to date.  It figures, right?

I celebrated over the weekend in Brooklyn with Kayte and Melissa – my BFF’s that had the nerve to flee Boston for NYC within a year of each other and leave me behind.  Fortunately I manage regular visits.  Friday night we had a supper of takeout tacos, no bake cookies birthday “cake”, and my cocktail of choice (G&T, in case I need to say it).

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For MaryAnn, My Mom

My friends, today I am 30 and I am embracing it with both hands, pulling it in close, and wearing it like crushed velvet.

But that’s not what this post is about.

Today’s post is for my beautiful Mom, MaryAnn.  She was the first person to hold me 30 years ago today, and is the person most likely to be holding my hand tomorrow.

mom and me aug 81

My mom has three daughters.  Courtney was born in 1980, me in 1981, and Tara in January of 1983.  Just pause for a moment to imagine the madness of three little girls that close in age, then think about how much harder it got for her two years later when she found herself going through a divorce and raising us mostly on her own.  She was twenty-nine years old.

I wouldn’t be smiling either if I was holding one kid, had another pulling on my hair, and yet a third (me) doing something weird behind my head.

mom and 3 girls

But she did smile a lot.

Despite how overwhelming and difficult that time must have been for her, Mom never put anything before her girls, and focused on rebuilding a life for our family.  She called us “cherubs” and piled on the affection, which we reciprocated.  My aunt likes to tell us, “Your poor mother couldn’t even go to the bathroom without you kids banging on the door because she wasn’t holding you!”  To this day we are still an affectionate bunch.

Before you roll your eyes, please know it wasn’t always kittens and cupcakes.  My teen years with my mom were more than typical.  We fought a lot.  I told her she didn’t understand me, and she told me I had a lot to learn.  Doors slammed, punishments were dealt, but then I moved out of the house for college and the pressure lifted.

I started to look forward to our phone calls, and on visits home we would plan special outings together.  My mom and I both get excited about visiting historical sites, shopping for consignment housewares, visiting bakeries, and stalking library book sales.  Our relationship began to grow in a new direction.

aimee and mom

In the years since then my mother has become something entirely different to me than just my parent.  She is a wonderfully unique person, and someone who I love and admire beyond compare.  I look to her as an example for how to live my life with honesty, kindness, and a slightly-warped sense of humor.  I also look to her for company on my walks home from work, as my top taste-tester, and source of secondhand cookbooks.  Lots and lots of cookbooks that I don’t have room for, but cannot refuse.

Today I turned 30, and I wouldn’t be here without her.  I can’t say with any certainty that I know where the near future will take me, but I do know my mom will be there, encouraging me and sharing my enthusiasm.

Thanks for giving birth to me, Mom, and for everything else you have given me since.  I love you!

Pencils

TECHmunch Time Out

techmunch

I recently attended a TECHmunch food blogger conference right here in Boston – a delightful opportunity for those of us who can’t make it to the seemingly endless parade of food events happening west and south.

TECHmunch is a series of conferences nationwide (hurrah!) that give food bloggers in-depth information on the latest in media, marketing, and business skills to help them make their blogs “better.” Better is in the eye of the beholder, of course, but the event promises something for everyone.

Babette Pepaj, founder of both TECHmunch and Bakespace.com, serves as the event producer and host. Babette is an absolute delight with a winning combination of energy, brains, humor, and sass.

There was a lot of great information, with panels covering topics such as “What’s New in Food: Understanding Trends to Enrich Your Content” and “Tips on Creating and Distributing Mouthwatering Multimedia Content.” It was like being back in my Civil War seminar with Professor Breen in college. I couldn’t write things fast enough, and came away with a lot of ideas for how I want to move forward with this little project.

the apron archives

I love The Apron Archives and want it to be the best it can be, but I have yet to tackle some of the biggest milestones in the growth department, such as these “Big 4”:

  1. Make a Schedule – I need to get my butt organized so I don’t constantly have half-written posts, posts without photos, or only 11 of the 12 ingredients I need when the stores are closed. I think to start I need a desk and a blog-specific calendar. Obvious, right? 
  2. Master SEO – Search engine optimization makes it easier for people to find your blog. Understanding SEO is a huge part of a blog’s success. It’s also the saddest part because it can make you crazy if you let it, like a pocket calorie counter, and that’s not why I am here.
  3. Advertise – Eventually, I need to work with an ad network that will post ads on my site and pay me based on my page views. I skipped this step in the beginning when most people go for it because I didn’t trust them, but maybe I need to do some research. Butter is expensive. So are camera lenses.
  4. Design – Hire someone to design a logo and/or custom template for me. Whenever this happens, it will be a happy day.

pencils

It wasn’t all hard work, of course.  In between the note-taking I won a 7-quart slow cooker from KitchenAid!  I have been wanting a new one for years (one newer than 1977), so I was thrilled.  The Harvard Common Press also hosted a mixer after the conference, which was a wonderful way to chat with friends (old and new) while sipping white wine and holding onto a tiny paper plate with cheese and crackers.

I got to visit with some of my favorite food blogger friends IRL…Jen from Beantown Baker, Jen from Savor the Thyme, and Sally from Cooking Lessons…but also meet some wonderful new people, like Evan from The Wannabe Chef, Brian from A Thought for Food, and Rachel from Pixelated Crumb.

I have several exciting and delicious posts (yes, they are) 99% ready to go, so get ready to hear from me more frequently.  You can also visit my other favorite project… my blog for Yankee Magazine, The Yankee Seeker

Stay tuned, friends!

Steve’s Ice Cream featuring Taza Chocolate!

I’ve said it before and I will say it again…I am not really a chocolate person.

This doesn’t mean I won’t eat it, it means I just don’t get all feverish and crazy for it like a lot of women people seem to do.  If you handed me a dessert menu, “death by chocolate” would be the last thing I would order.

I know that is somewhat of a loaded statement in a post dedicated in part to chocolate, but stick with me here.

I have recently realized that I was basing my choco-stereotype on mass-market brands like Hershey’s and Cadbury and spongy, flavorless supermarket cakes.  I knew there were so-called “gourmet” brands, but I was always too cheap to spring for truffles from Godvia (not when I could get a quart-sized sack of Haribo gummy bears for the same price) so it was easier to say “I am not really a chocolate person.”

Thankfully, there are now times when I can get excited about chocolate.  When I know it’s been made with care in small batches using quality minimal ingredients.  Now imagine ice cream made the same way.  Finally, imagine those two things together.

It was the celebration of these two things, specifically Taza chocolate and Steve’s ice cream that brought me to the Taza Chocolate Factory on Tuesday night.

Steve’s got its start in Somerville back in 1973, and is widely credited as the first ice cream place where you could customize your premium cup or cone with “mix-ins” like candy, nuts, and fruit.  Steve’s grew rapidly and was sold by its original founder/owner in 1977.  After changing hands a few more times, it disappeared for good in the late 1990’s.

Now the brand is making a return in the hands of David Stein, who worked at the original store when he was a student.  During his time there, he learned the importance of making quality small batches of ice cream by hand.  He considers the entire process a craft, and strives to partner Steve’s with only the finest artisanal dairy, coffee, and chocolate producers that share his philosophy.

Which brings me back to Taza Chocolate, also from Somerville.  I have mentioned before how much I love Taza.  They remain the only bean-to-bar producer in the US of organic, stone-ground chocolate.  They do everything in-house, their chocolate tastes amazing, and the lover of vintage design in me cannot can enough of their artistic packaging.

I am in no way dairy-free, but my favorite flavor of the evening was the Mint Cacao Chip.  It was so smooth and creamy you would have never have thought it was vegan thanks to coconut cream.  The mint was bright and refreshing, while the chocolate covered cacao nibs lended some crunch.

I can’t believe I paused from eating it long enough to take a picture.

Other fantastic flavors I tried were Mexican Chili Chocolate (chocolate ice cream spiced with cayenne, cinnamon and Taza Guajillo Chili Chocolate), Salty Caramel (caramel ice cream with sea salted caramel swirl), and Dirty Girl Scout (with coffee liqueur, Irish cream, and mint liqueur ice cream). 

I didn’t photograph them because I was also holding onto a cocktail at that point…

A Dark Russian to be exact, expertly shaken…

And served over ice with a scoop of bourbon vanilla ice cream.  Oh boy.

Have I mentioned I just love Taza’s packaging and colors?

We were each given a charming take-home glass jar of Steve’s Hot Fudge, made using the original 1973 recipe and featuring Taza chocolate.  I hate to even open it, but I know I won’t be able to resist much longer… 

Thanks to Taza and Steve’s for a fun and tasty evening – and to Fiona from A Boston Food Diary for bringing me along!  It was so much fun snacking on chocolate and ice cream and sipping cocktails with Fi, Megan, Melissa, and Pam.

Right now it looks like you can only get Steve’s in NYC, but they have said they will be selling pints at the Taza store, and you should begin seeing it pop up in local markets soon.  They also plan on selling it online for home delivery.  Keep an eye out and your spoon ready!

Sunny San Diego

Last week I spent several sun-filled days in San Diego with two fabulous ladies I met at Food Blog Camp in Mexico and kept in touch with.  Marie from Meandering Eats hosted myself (me?  myself?  I never know…) and Amber from Awake at the Whisk, who came down from Sacramento.  I ate a lot of food.  I saw my favorite wild animal breeds (giraffes and elephants).  I got to spend a lot of time showering Marie’s dog Bear with belly rubs, despite that fact that Bear delicately helped himself to my dried cherries from the farmers market when nobody was looking.

I left them within reach, so really, I can’t blame him.  Bear’s got taste.

Thanks again Marie for a wonderful visit!  I have now officially been to California.  I got my first sunburn of the season.  I unexpectedly but delightfully got to see one of my oldest friends, Ashley.  I learned that when you see four children under the age of two on your red-eye flight back to Boston, it means you won’t be getting any sleep, so you might as well give up trying and get a second Diet Coke.

Looking forward to visiting Nantucket in a few weeks!

Four Seasons Cooking Class

I had the extreme pleasure last week of attending a cooking class at the Boston Four Seasons Hotel with a small group of fellow food bloggers. 

The event was described as a cooking class, but it felt more like a birthday party.  If you put a bunch of  food-fanatic bloggers with six o’clock appetites in the kitchen of a fine hotel (then, just for good measure, give them wine and cheese) my friends, you will have yourself one happy bunch.

The evening’s menu consisted of Bay Scallop Chowder, Chicken and Truffle Dumplings, and Warm Chocolate Cake with Berries and Vanilla Ice Cream.  As a vegetarian and mostly-baker, I was excited to have the opportunity to observe seafood and poultry preparation (and presentation!) in the literal hands of Executive Chef Brooke Vosika.

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Dear Valentine

To be honest, I am not a huge fan of Valentine’s Day.  I get annoyed with the idea that February 14th is the day to measure how much you love someone, or how much they love you.  I think the real measure is how someone treats you when you’re having a bad day or when nobody’s looking.  Am I just being a total grump about this?

Despite my distaste for the romantic emphasis on Valentine’s Day, I do enjoy the fun side of it…in the form of handmade cards and heart-shaped treats. 

For example, John’s toast this morning.

Or the picture-perfect Valentine’s sugar cookies from my lovely and talented sister Courtney, who made them for a family party this weekend, and was thoughtful enough to gift wrap a few for me to take home.

I can guarantee that every sprinkle on every cookie was exactly where it was supposed to be.  The crumbs in the photos are all mine.  That’s how I roll.  Or maybe that’s just how I eat…

I hope you all enjoy Valentine’s Day however you celebrate it…or don’t celebrate it.  I think John and I will just go out for supper at our favorite local bar/restaurant instead of making something at home.  Maybe I will put on a dress. 

What are your plans? 

Lots of extra V-day love in particular to one of my favorite people (and one of my first and most enthusiastic readers) Jessica.  On Thursday she and her husband Mike became brand new parents to their beautiful daughter Bella Jane!  I am so happy and excited for her.  Yay Jess!  Love you!

Welcome to “The Apron Archives”

Hello Friends!  I am delighted to welcome you to The Apron Archives.

As I have mentioned over my last few posts, I came away from Food Blog Camp overflowing with ideas and inspiration for the future of my blog.  I knew that I needed to think about what I really wanted to focus on in the enormous world of food, and then choose a new name that would work with that. 

The first part was easy.  It all comes back to my love of history.  One of my favorite things about food is its powerful connection to the past.  When it comes to telling the story of how we grow and change as a collective people, food doesn’t just have a seat at the table – it’s on the table and in our bodies.  What we buy, cook and eat has grown and evolved with our ever-changing tastes and diets.  I am fascinated by examples of our culinary past, in big-picture ways (like the invention of flash freezing food so it could stay fresher longer) and small ways (like why we eat popcorn at the movies).   

 
At 15 months I was all about my Hoodsie, a New England childhood birthday party ice cream tradition since 1947.

The second part was a lot harder, but I think “The Apron Archives” perfectly encompasses both the domestic and the historic. I want it to be a place where old or forgotten recipes, family food traditions, classic brands, household traditions (both enduring and archaic), kitchen gadgets, and everything in between shine like the sun glinting off a Jell-O mold at a Fourth of July cookout.

I may have to enlist help from time to time, since many memorable examples in vintage cookery feature cocktail wieners and meatloaf…but then again, I might just update them to 2011 and make them vegetarian.

Like most places, the kitchen will be the heart of this home, but I don’t want to spend all of my time there… 

My inspiration will come from thrift stores, dog-eared cookbooks, old mom magazines (no joke, I buy these on Ebay all of the time for fun), terrific web resources (like The Food Timeline, Food Reference, Etsy), fellow bloggers (like my camp roommate Sarah’s hilarious Nana Recipe Wednesday series, Brooke’s memory of her first Betty Crocker cookbook for her 5th birthday, and Amber’s recent post on using her Grandma’s cookbook), and also from the minds and memories of family, friends, and you!

I wish I had access to my Great Grammy’s (back row center) Italian recipe box!  Sidenote…I think my Great Grandpa looks like Alec Baldwin.

As always, thank you for visiting…I am looking forward to continuing this adventure!

Love, Aimee