Saturday, October 27, 2012

Boston Public Garden: Autumn Delights

The Boston Public Garden was created in 1837, adjacent to the much older Boston Commons. It was thought garish at the time, for its brightly colored flowers, but in modern times it certainly garners the lion share of visitors. And although I do love to sneak out for a walk in the Garden when it is piled with snow and icicles, by far my favorite time to see it is Fall. Today, realizing that the predicted "Frankenstorm" that is supposed to hit Boston on Monday will no doubt decimate the last of the leaves, I went for a proper wander. And I wasn't disappointed.



And a hop away from the Garden is the neighborhood of Beacon Hill, possibly one of the most photogenic, oldest, and richest neighborhoods in Boston. Brass street lamps, brightly painted doors, and old brick facades are to be found here, especially on the famous Chestnut street, where people vie in spring to take the iconic photos of flowering trees and old houses. But fall is not bad either, and I happily wandered about.


And I know what you're going to ask next. Bakery Babe, where should I eat in Beacon Hill? My favorite is still Cafe Vanille, a choice that invite anyone to argue with. It is one of the best french-style bakeries in Boston.

So do take a fall ramble, if you have the chance, and stop at Vanille for a slice of chocolate orange gateau. It's deluxe!

Cafe Vanille:
Boston Public Garden:

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Mt. Auburn Cemetery: Best Walk in Boston

Spoiler Alert: there are no baked goods in this post. But I can't help myself! If you're in Boston during fall and wondering how to spend an afternoon, Mt. Auburn is one of the prettiest and peaceful places to take a walk.

Basically, this is a cemetery that is also a walking park. Founded in 1831 by a Horticultural society, there is no part of Mt. Auburn that isn't packed with beautiful, old trees. In the autumn? Forget about it! There's not nice place to oggle fall leaves, trust me.
And don't be creeped out by the idea of walking through a graveyard. These are beautiful stones from long ago, when people wrote very sentimental things for their loved ones. It is more like a walk through history than creepy.
The only drawback for a bakery babe? You cannot, repeat, CANNOT take a picnic. And there is no cafe at hand to sit and eat goodies whilst gazing out at the park. However, about 5 minutes down Mt. Auburn St. by car or bus you will find Darwin's, one of my favorite sandwich and goody shops. My favorite afternoon involves a walk at Mt. Auburn and then ordering the Mt. Auburn sandwich at Darwin's, followed up by one of their cupcakes.
Curious? Check out the park's website:

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Put on your pink tutu and boogie, Boston!

The Honk! parade sounds like it should be a disaster. Troops of brass bands wandering around Davis Square, honking and squaling with their tubas and trumpets. Not really the kind of thing I'd normally leave the apartment and seek out. But last year I was lucky enough to stumble on the parade by accident, and I was hooked. This event is the ultimate revenge of the band geeks. Bands of musicians get duded up in their best alterna band tutus, buzzy bee tights, rabbit suits...anything goes.

In fact, I knew the Honkers! were in town on Saturday when a man walked by me wearing nothing but black tights with lemonade-yellow underwear on over his tights, clutching his trombone. These peeps didn't come here to march in rank n' file, they came to boogie. Seriously, boogie. Honk, toot, drum like maniacs, and parade like the freak circus just rolled into town. Pictures don't really do it justice to decribe the chaotic cacaphony of twenty brass bands rolling through the square, complete with unicyclists, dancing girls on stilts, and some really cute home-grown kids in Halloween costumes too.

It's so casual that it's less a parade and more of a huge block party. The key difference is that under all those wigs and false eyelashes are some really fine musicians. I mean dang good ones. You will find yourself jumping, wriggling, shaking your booty, and cheering for these marvelous revelling band geeks. They really are special, and I highly recommend that you come check out the Honk! parade the next time they roll through town. Given that it's on the same weekend as Octoberfest, you're not likely to lack for food or frosty beverages to consume whilst the fun goes down.


Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Cardullos: And the kitchen sink

I first became a regular at Cardullo's about ten years ago, when as a graduate student, I survived the winters on their liverwurst sandwiches. Bitchin' sourdough, thick slabs of meat butter, and all the usual sandwich accoutrement, plus a jolly big Italian guy who worked behind the sandwich counter and made you feel like you were in a scene from Moonstruck. Fast forward ten years. The Babe doesn't eat anything that started off life with hooves (so nix on the liverwurst), and the jolly Italian guy has been replaced by college kids. BUT, this is still THE place to grab a sandwich in Harvard square. Their french rolls, in particular, should be contraband.

But there are other reasons to visit Cardullos besides the sandwhich bar, namely the entire rest of the store. This place is packed, and I do mean packed, with every imported delicacy, specialty food, and gourment goody you could want.

Need Turkish delight? Check.

Need Hob Nobs and a cuppa British breakfast tea? Check.

Need love tea? Check!

German marzipan?

Ten dollar bars of artisan chocolate?

Basically, every corner of this shop is crammed with something that will make your foodie heart thump loudly. At Christmas, in particular, I have to refrain from buying multiple British puddings (as in, figgy me, you want it). The only catch? Imports cost money. Artisan costs money. So bring yourself here for a sandwich or a treat, but don't bring the rent money!
And where to eat that gorgeous liverwurst sandwich you may order? I recommend the steps of Widener Library, as Harvard yard is only a few feet away. I like to think I get smarter just by sitting on the steps and enjoying some goodies.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Amherst, land of milk and honey

Farmer's Market, Amherst
Not having a car, I tend to discover things that have been sitting in Boston's backyard like they're a bit of a miracle. Like realizing that Amherst is only three hours away by bus. Like realizing that we even have a bus system that goes out into the "wilds." Well, lucky for me, we do. And I recently went there for a weekend visit, determined to find the best goodies they had to offer. I inadvertently landed in the quaint little town, formerly the home of Emily Dickinson, in the middle of farmer's market. And let me tell you, after suffering through Boston "farmers markets" that are as expensive as Whole Foods, it was with something like euphoria that I dallied amongst dirt cheap veggies, plates of watermelon, beautiful home grown flowers, and even handmade brooms. Oh, and I did I mention the bakery stall?

Not a bad introduction to a town, eh? But my first official stop was at the Black Sheep Deli on, I'm not kidding, Main Street. Yes, it's the kind of town that still has a "Main St." and I advise you to go there for cookies or a sandwich at the Black Sheep, a ramshackle hippy joint that is renowned for their bread and goodies.


Driving through fields of green and lovely, shadowy forest, past paint-chipped barns, I found myself  near Haydenville, at a swank little place called Bread Euphoria (perhaps coincidentally, they are also responsible for the goodies at the Amherst farmer's market).

This pretty little place is half pottery studio half bakery, with a sweet patio to sit on, surrounded by lanterns and tall summer flowers. May I recommend starting with the avocado sandwhich that come with oh-so-good potato chips (homemade, we speculate).
Just be sure to leave room for dessert, as the bakery case has everything from strawberry buttercream cupcakes to sublime lemon and blueberry tarts, peanut butter crumbles, and even galettes.
But I must say, besides the good company, the highlight of the weekend was actually seeing the bridge of flowers in Clayburn Falls. The town has taken a pedestrian bridge and turned it into a garden. There is something really magical about this place and I highly recommend a visit.
Do go:
Bridge of Flowers
Black Sheep Deli

Bread Euphoria
Amherst farmers market

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Vermont: the land of maple syrup, moose, and transcendental ice cream

Mr. Bear at the Orvis Store in Arlington
Ah, Vermont. Don't be fooled by the map showing major routes that you can take to traverse the state. Prepare yourself for wee little roads dotted with "moose crossing" signs. The good news is, Vermont is so lovely that you won't care if your tires are being slowly flayed off your car. Case in point, as we bounced over an unpaved road to Grafton, I stared at the lush green forest that arched above us into a canopy, dappling the road with filtered light, and I saw what might've inspired Robert Frost's line, "the woods are lovely, dark, and deep." There is a cool verdancy to the thickly forested land that seems like the kind of magic that would lure Hansel and Gretel further and further in, their trail of crumbs mysteriously disappearing. I was interrupted from this thought, however, when we rounded a corner and saw a bear crossing the road. My companion seemed quite delighted at this turn of events, while I stabbed at the auto-lock and squeaked for her to roll up her windows.

Near Bear Central
And the bear was not the first wildlife sighting of the weekend. Packs of wild turkeys, kamikaze squirrels, fuzzy little chipmunks, and trout the size of bread loaves were duly noted by the Bakery Babe. There's no getting around it: there's nature in Vermont. Luckily, there are also many humans who take inordinate amounts of pride in making really good food.

In the town of Bennington, we were treated to Cafe Nova Mae, an old-timey cafe with good looks and a tempting sweets case. The service was a bit slow, but altogether it's the sort of place you could happily while away a few hours over cofee.

Alas, all that glitters is not gold in Bennington. Just down the street, we stopped in at the intriguing "Crazy Russian Girls" bakery, only to find that despite warm cookies straight from the oven and cupcakes that looked like schnauzers, the bakery itself had a bit of gloom to it, with sparse shelves and a few bits of frosting that was beginning to crust over.

Feeling somewhat in need of a cheery thought, we fled next door to the Village Chocolate Shop.

But as we entered what should've been the cutest store in the entirety of Vermont, I quickly noted a plethora of cellophane badness, the absolute lack of the scent of chocolate, and two large "chocolate" moose that looked like their origins were strictly scatological.

Empty handed, we landed with some desperation at the Bakkerij Krijnen, an unassuming little building on the outskirts of town that has only the sign "Bakery" as any form of identification to the passerby. But trust me, it's worth hunting down. Inside you will find a bright Dutch bakery with exquisite frangipane tarts, pies, and cookies made with the best cocoa and marzipan.

Raspberry Linzer cookies

Cocoa Tulips
Yes, please.
This is exactly the sort of bakery I dream of stumbling into by chance on a quiet country road. At prices that are not too dear, you will walk out with a tower of goodies.

But for those seeking a truly unique Vermont experience, I suggest you proceed from Bennington to Shaftsbury, where you will find the Chocolate Barn on Historic Route A.

Now, I know that normally things which end in "barn" are not good (Liquor Barn, Dress Barn, Yarn Barn, etc.). But in this instance, you are to swerve, parachute, or walk on bended knee if you must to get thee to the Chocolate Barn. Why? Inside lurks the most heavenly, rich, creamy, substantial homemade ice cream that you will ever devour. By far better than any ice cream available in Boston. I opted for the maple walnut, and my face was quickly attached to a thick cream tower that was splendid with maple and absolutely packed with walnuts. It was magnificent. It was bloody good. And it was devoured so fast that I did not stop to take a picture. So you'll have to find out for yourself what the world's best ice cream cone looks like. But I can leave you with some idea of the other goodies that one might procure at the Chocolate Barn.

There were, of course, many treats of the inedible variety. Splashing about in idealic Lake Shaftsbury with some very energetic water monkeys, lounging on the cool screened porch and drinking Pimms with good friends, oggling fishing lures that looked like rock-star hair extensions at the Orvis Headquarters, fesh corn from the farm down the lane, and even trowling the local thrift sale for goodies. But I have to tell you, the very best treat of the weekend was something that simply cannot be bought in a store. Our gracious host brought out an amazing breakfast treat: maple syrup made from the trees on her land. In a quart jar. Served with a ladle. This is the kind of lux food indulgence that makes my heart and my blood sugar soar. A few puddles of this glorious stuff on blueberry pancakes gave me secret ambitions to move to Vermont permanently.

Do go:
The Chocolate Barn, Historic Route 7A, Shaftsbury, VT 05262
Nova Mae Cafe, 512 Main St, Bennington, VT 05201
Bakkerij Krijnen, 1001 Main St, Bennington, VT 05201

Do avoid:
Crazy Russian Girl Bakery, 415 Main St, Bennington, VT 05201
The Village Chocolate Shoppe, 471 Main St, Bennington, VT 05201