Posted tagged ‘Cambridge’

A Harvard Square Saturday

May 15, 2011

Although the weather was pretty bleak, I spent a nice afternoon in Harvard Square on Saturday. I walked there from Porter Square, where I had just gone to the gym.

These photos were taken at the corner of Massachusetts Avenue and Everett Street, where Harvard University is constructing a new law school building. The building is almost ready, it appears (construction has sure taken awhile!)

Part of the new building

Some of the project crew members

One of the building's arches

As I approached Harvard Square, I spotted a crowd encircling some martial art practitioners/dancers. Here’s a pic:

Listen to the music the martial arts people were moving to by checking out this video:

As I waited for my fiance to finish up an exam at Harvard, I read some of the history displays near Garden Street.

Part of one of the history displays

I learned a bunch of new things about Cambridge, including:

  • Cambridge was first called “Newtowne”
  • The name was changed to Cambridge when Harvard University was founded. Cambridge is a reference to the university city of Cambridge, England.
  • Harvard is named after John Harvard, the university’s first benefactor
  • The Puritans founded Cambridge in 1630. It was meant to be their permanent capital, as the location was safe from an attack by sea. It didn’t last as a political capital, though it became an educational one (with the establishment of Harvard).
  • The community criticized some of Harvard’s early buildings, saying they were “too gorgeous for a wilderness.”
  • In the 18th century wealthy royalists built elaborate mansions and gardens along Brattle Street (the stretch of mansions was called “Tory Row). They had grown  rich from service to the crown and the rum and slavery trade. When the revolution broke, they fled to Canada and England.

Fittingly, on Saturday my fiance and I had lunch at a relatively new restaurant in Harvard Square named Tory Row.

I had some fresh pineapple juice ($2.50) and a grilled marinated chicken breast sandwich with chipotle aioli, mixed greens, and roasted potatoes ($11).

My meal

The roll was nice and soft, the aioli had the perfect kick to it, and the mixed greens and roasted potatoes provided a nice accompaniment to the sandwich.

After lunch, I saw Harvard Square’s newest Starbuck’s. It’s by Citizens Bank and the T.

A sign on the door states the cafe will be opening on May 20 (this Friday). According to comments at the end of this local news post, several business have failed at that location (including an Abercrombie & Fitch).

Harvard Square is such a fun place to walk through. You see guys like this painter, selling their wares.

One of the history displays had mentioned that the country’s first printing press arrived in Cambridge (from England) in the 1630s. I shared this tidbit with my fiance; he told me he knew where the printing press was housed. He took me to Dunster Street, where there’s this plaque.

A little ways down the street we saw this:

What a coincidence! I look forward to trying this place out!

Panera coming to Porter Square in Cambridge

February 28, 2011

There’s this sign where the old Qdoba was located:

Qdoba closed in June of last year; the storefront was vacant until this display recently went up. I’m not sure when Panera will open, but I’m glad it’s coming. I love their chocolate croissants, free coffee refills, and sandwiches. Plus, they have free wireless Internet (providing an alternative to the somewhat-cramped Bruegger’s across the street and Porter Square Books, which also doesn’t have a ton of space for using your computer).

The Atomic Bean Cafe in Cambridge rocks

February 5, 2011

I’m always looking for new coffee shops with wireless Internet access. I’ve actually been going to the Atomic Bean Cafe in Central Square for over a year now (I mentioned the joint in this December 2009 post), but it was just recently that I tried one of their paninis. I had the Atomic Veggie panini, which is basically hummus, tomato, cucumbers, sprouts, and lettuce between two pieces of bread. Since it’s a panini, it was pressed in a grill just before service.

My Atomic Veggie panini meal

The sandwich cost $7.50, which is a big pricey. Still, it came with tortilla chips, salsa, and pineapple slices. Everything was scrumptious. I like the cafe’s coffee, and the banana mango smoothie I sampled wasn’t bad either (if anything, it was a little too sweet). Their muffins are to die for. Bite into one of their orange cranberry or pistachio chocolate muffins, and you’ll know what heaven tastes like.

New Year’s resolution #6 (or was it #7 or #10?): Join a French conversation group

January 28, 2011

A photo from my first time in France (on a beach in Nice in 2000)

Prior to moving to Boston two and a half years ago, I pretty much spoke French every week. Whether I was conversing with a French friend over the webcam, speaking French with some fellow francophiles where I was living, or thinking out loud in French, the French language was clearly an important part of my life.

Well, since I arrived here I’ve been really bad at keeping up with the language. I initially joined a French conversation Meetup group, but I wasn’t a fan of the setting. I found that Tommy Doyle’s Irish pub in Cambridge’s Harvard Square was too loud and crowded of a backdrop. So after two sessions I stopped attending the group. I began working as a reporter, and found my evenings taken up with public meetings and article assignments.

When I stopped working as a reporter, I thought I might be able to get involved with another conversation group. But I ended up taking on a part-time restaurant job and signing up for an evening class, eliminating my ability to attend the groups I knew of. Well, my schedule is now more normal, and I see there’s a group that meets one Sunday per month at 5 p.m., a good day and time for me.

The group gathers at The Asgard Irish pub in Cambridge’s Central Square. Because they meet during the day, I’m hoping the clientele isn’t too rowdy. I’m trying out the group this Sunday, so I’ll let you know how it goes. Wish me luck (I’ll surely need it with my out-of-practice French)!

If you don’t mind feeling like a hippy, check out the delicious Life Alive cafe in Cambridge

January 14, 2011

It’s a new restaurant based off the one in Lowell. The menu calls the joint an “urban oasis and organic cafe.” You walk inside and one of the first things you notice is stacks of fresh produce (e.g. ginger, celery, carrots) behind the counter. You see this and know you’ll be eating healthy. Then you notice the list of smoothies. They are pretty expensive ($5.99 apiece), so I was a little hesitant to get one. I ended up caving and getting the “Love Alive” smoothie (blueberry, strawberry, banana, date, and almond milk). It was quite good, though I’m not so sure it’s worth the price.

Half of my smoothie (my friend had the other half)

I arrived there around 1 p.m. yesterday, and the line to order was very long. Basically you order at the counter, take a number, and are brought your food (just like the delicious Cafe Mangal in Wellesley!). As I waited, I scanned the decor and trinkets around me. A string of white lights framed a large and inviting window in the middle of the room. I also observed lots of green plants, a row of books you can read as you dine (if you get into a book you can put down a $5 deposit and borrow it), and an arrangement of teas. The teas are in little containers; you’re free to open the containers and smell the tea before ordering.

I ordered “The Seeker,” a salad with lemon garlic hummus, chopped cashews, granny applies, cucumbers, shredded carrots, spring greens, and ginger nama shoyu sauce. The dish comes in three forms: a bowl for $7.97, a wrap for $8.50, and a demi for $5.75). I got the bowl.

My friend Katie got “The Sufi Poet,” which is a salad with red-lentil hummus, cranberries, cashews, cucumber, granny apples, shredded carrots, spring greens, and balsamic vinaigrette. She just got the demi because her appetite was smaller. I must confess I initially thought the idea of hummus in salad is strange, but it went so well with the more subtle-tasting ingredients (e.g. the spring greens and cucumber). The lemon garlic hummus added just the right amount of “ooomph.” I also loved the texture of the chopped cashews.

Everything was fresh and oh-so-healthy-tasting, and it was the perfect amount of food. I will surely go back. We sat on the bottom level of the two-floor restaurant. It really doesn’t feel like a restaurant, but rather a cozy and colorful family room belonging to young artists. There are lots of nooks and crannies for sitting with your friends, as well as a play area for the youngins. Check out this little cove we snagged:

I look forward to trying some of their other menu items. They sell grilled tortilla wraps (like “The Seductress,” which boasts hard-boiled egg, broccoli, dark greens, shredded carrots and beets, garlic, yeast, and a whole wheat tortilla); “simple snacks” (like “The Crunchy Hippy,” which contains maple almond granola, dried fruit, almond milk, and maple syrup); and rice-based dishes (like “The Goddess,” which features ginger nama shoyu sauce, carrots, beets, broccoli, dark greens, tofu, and short-grain brown rice). You can also get sides for 50 cents to $3 apiece, like sesame stix, sun-dried tomato, and quinoa, as well as “jubilant juices,” like “Hive Alive” (a mixture of lemon, apple, honey, and pure water).

Another neat touch I must mention is they have a water dispenser with glasses both upstairs and downstairs (this is important to me because I normally drink tap water). Though they serve tea, I don’t think they serve coffee.

The country must be in trouble when the post office has just one counter employee the week before Christmas

December 17, 2010

I think it’s fair to say that this is one of the busiest letter-, card-, and package-mailing times of the year. Everyone’s trying to make sure his items arrive before Christmas Eve. So it really shocked me when I showed up at the Porter Square post office (in Cambridge, Massachusetts) yesterday to discover just one person was working the counter. It was about 4 p.m., and there must have been 20 people ahead of me in line.

I wouldn’t have minded the crowd so much if several of the transactions hadn’t taken five-plus minutes (the first one I witnessed surely lasted more than 10 minutes). I don’t necessarily blame the individual customers or the guy behind the counter, but I do blame the post office for not having had another employee working. But maybe it’s all due to Americans’ non-willingness to pay higher taxes. Maybe it’s partially my fault. Either way, it took nearly an hour for me to buy a couple books of stamps.

Another real pity is this particular post office no longer has stamp-dispensing machines. A couple of people in line besides myself just needed stamps as well, and publicly lamented there wasn’t this technology available. The guy behind the counter just responded: “We used to have it (the machine); now we don’t.” What more was he going to say anyway? It’d probably just make him angry explaining why they had to get rid of the machine. He was already experiencing a stressful enough day and didn’t need that added annoyance.

I was impressed with the man’s calmness when I arrived at the front of the line. The label-printing machine wasn’t working for a minute, but instead of getting upset he jokingly said “Wow, this is a great day for this to happen.” He kept his cool, adjusted the machine, and it started working again. He was quite polite, and I tried to be as nice as possible, too, knowing he has a difficult job (Did you know that the term “going postal” actually came about following a series of incidents involving postal workers shooting and killing fellow employees and others?).

Anyway, I’m saddened the federal government doesn’t have enough money to staff the counter of this post office with more than one employee on one of the busiest mailing days of the year (that is, if that was the reason for just one employee working), but am glad the one who was there was quite kind.

Photo credit: www.flickr.com/photos/sushiesque/68524998

Yeah for yuppie nachos!

November 28, 2010

Christopher's in Cambridge's Porter Square sells "yuppie nachos."

I tried Christopher’s “yuppie nachos” the other night (read about my love for Christopher’s in this blog post). In addition to tortilla chips, here’s what they include:

  • melted cheddar, jack and goat cheese
  • sun-dried tomatoes
  • guacamole

How’s that for a fantabulous combination? It tasted just as good as it sounds. For my main course, to make up for the somewhat unhealthy appetizer, I had a Christopher’s salad (just $3.95!). It includes:

  • seasonal greens
  • tomatoes
  • cucumbers
  • sliced red onion
  • Kalamata olives

It came with some sort of Dijon mustard dressing that was quite tasty. I was really happy to have ordered this salad because a) it was delicious and b) it wasn’t jumbo-sized like most salads I’m accustomed to getting at restaurants.

Asmara: A restaurant where it’s OK to eat with your hands

November 28, 2010

I joined some friends for a meal at Asmara Restaurant in Cambridge’s Central Square the other night. I thought the restaurant was Ethiopian, but upon conducting some research I learned it’s Eritrean. In 1992, following 30 years of war with Ethiopia, Etritrea became an independent country. Though the two countries have the same cuisine and culinary traditions, this restaurant has ties with Etritrea. Asmara is actually the capital of Etritrea.

We all had mango juice to drink. It was so tasty and refreshing! And it went well with some of the spicy dishes we sampled. We actually ordered a large platter with numerous meat and veggie dishes.  The “meat combination” was called Sega Bebaynetu and included:

  • boneless chicken
  • spicy lamb
  • sautéed beef
  • mild vegetable stew
  • mild lentils
  • a house special salad

The “vegetable combination” was called Ahimilti Bebaynetu and included:

  • cabbage
  • yellow split peas
  • spinach
  • chick peas
  • lentils
  • tomato salad

It was awesome to have such a variety of foods at our disposal. You eat everything with your fingers with bread called Injera (made out of rice flour). It’s just like a sponge, soaking up sauces and flavors.

For dessert my friend Katie and I had some Etritrean coffee (it was similar to Turkish coffee– very strong with coffee grounds you’re not supposed to drink at the bottom). Here’s a picture of Katie enjoying her beverage:

The mango juice, food, and coffee cost me about $35 with tax and tip. Kind of expensive, but everything was very good.

Simon Winchester gives a good talk

November 15, 2010

Winchester talked about his latest book, "Atlantic"

I love seeing authors speak about their works, or scholars lecturing about their areas of expertise. But for some reason, I haven’t attended many of these talks over the last couple of years. I ended a long drought on Thursday when I saw Simon Winchester discuss his new book about the Atlantic Ocean at Porter Square Books in Cambridge (check out Winchester’s website to see what he looks like).

I haven’t yet read the book. I knew nothing about Simon Winchester. But I sort of became enchanted by him over the course of his one-hour appearance. This guy knows how to tell stories. The words just flow. I wish I had written down some exact quotes of his. Instead, I just took notes on some of the interesting ideas he discussed.

Here are some things I learned:

  • The Atlantic Ocean formed about 200 million years ago when Pangea broke apart (I knew the Pangea part, but not when the separation happened).
  • Scientists project the Atlantic Ocean will cease to exist in about 175 million years once the continents have shifted and water from the ocean has been squeezed out.
  • Winchester organized his book using Shakespeare’s “seven ages of man” model. Let me expand a little bit upon this:

Apparently Shakespeare’s play “As You Like It” catalogs the seven stages of man’s life as infant, schoolboy, lover, soldier, justice, pantaloon (an aging buffoon), and second childhood. So Winchester organized his book into these categories. The “lover” section, for instance, discusses humans’ love for the Atlantic over time. The “soldier” section describes wars that have taken place on the Atlantic Ocean. I thought this was a very interesting way to organize the book.

  • He told an amusing story about the Faroe Islands, an island group about halfway between Great Britain and Iceland belonging to Denmark.

He told us that the inhabitants of these islands are descendants of the Vikings. Because the men aren’t at war anymore, they have lots of energy to “purge themselves of.” They accomplish this through placing sheep high up on the sides of cliffs. They leave the sheep in these dangerous spots for months as the sheep eat the lush grass and fatten up.

When the men finally return to the cliffs, they knock the sheep into the water. The sheep die, come up to the water’s surface, and are collected to be turned into food. This means that if you’re ever on a boat around these islands, you should watch out for falling sheep!

The British needed a smokeless gunpowder called cordite, which was made from acetone. Weizmann developed a way to produce acetone through bacterial fermentation. British officials learned about Weizmann’s procedure from Manchester Guardian editor C.P. Scott,  and had him share his knowledge. The British set up a cordite factory in an old whiskey factory, and the rest is history.

To thank Weizmann, British officials wanted to knight him. But he didn’t want that– he wanted a Jewish state in Palestine instead. It’s largely because of his wish that this eventually happened.

  • Tristan da Cunha is the most remote inhabited archipelago in the world. According to Winchester, who has been there before, only about 250 people live there and it’s not that interesting. It’s a lot of people growing potatoes.

Anyway, Winchester told a really funny (and true) story about how he’s banned from the island.

  • The “Skeleton Coast” in Namibia is known for its shipwrecks. Winchester actually went there to see where a ship attempting to rescue another ship crashed into the shore. He visited the graves of the two brave souls who died during this incident, and mentioned them in his book. It’s a way to keep their memory alive as many seem to have forgotten about them and their heroic efforts.

I love how Winchester took us to different parts of the Atlantic we’ve never heard of and filled us with rich imagery, poignant stories and humorous anecdotes. I really want to read this book now! For a glimpse of how Winchester talks, check out this short YouTube clip about “Atlantic”:

Yes, I’m a cheapskate

September 3, 2010

I got this free t-shirt for joining Planet FitnessI joined a gym for $100 a year. Can you believe it??? That’s like $8 a month!

That gym is Planet Fitness in Porter Square in Cambridge. I had heard from friends it’s cheap to go there, so I looked up the location online. They have a very helpful webpage detailing their various membership options. How’s that for transparency?

The page also list the gym’s contact information and hours. It sounds like a no brainer, but some gyms don’t even have a website (crazy in today’s world, huh?).

You can actually sign up for a gym membership online. I entered in the appropriate information, including my credit card number, and “Voila!” I was automatically a member.

I went to the gym a few days later, and started working out. I couldn’t believe the gym’s cleanliness and attractiveness. For $8 a month, I was getting this? Had I died and gone to heaven? Something must be wrong with this scenario. Maybe there’s asbestos or something in the room and that’s why the membership is so cheap??? I have no idea!

Anyway, the gym has lots and lots of elliptical machines and treadmills, the two pieces of equipment I use the most. Each one has a television attached, with a closed caption option. It was so fun– the other day I got to watch Tyra Banks interview people about their addiction to technology, while burning calories. It was a win-win!

And then on another occasion I got to see a funny Regis and Kelly segment where Kelly (while deliberately acting like a ditz) learned how to change a tire. I wouldn’t normally watch these shows, but it’s great to have the opportunity while exercising.

I know people who pay much more money for their Boston Sports Club gym memberships. And from what I hear the Central Square location’s televisions won’t turn on without headphones plugged in. Some people don’t like working out with headphones, so that is a real drawback I feel.

Planet Fitness in Porter Square has a number of weightlifting machines, and a mat for you stretch and do sit-ups on. Unfortunately there are no classes offered, but for the price it’s understandable.

The bathrooms are nice and clean, the two rooms are quite open (not cluttered),  and I like the gym’s purple, yellow and black color scheme.

Make sure, though, if you join the gym to check your bank statement. Planet Fitness “accidentally” charged me $99 twice. No one (I talked to two different employees) actually apologized for this oversight, though they did quickly provide me with my refund.