Monday, December 29, 2014

Behind the Barr in Boston and Staying with Suzette

A quote attributed to Isabella Stewart Gardner (1840 - 1924)

At the conclusion of this year’s National Society of Newspaper Columnists (NSNC) annual conference in Washington DC, my friend and former NSNC President, Suzette Standring, invited me to spend four days with her and her lovely family near Boston, Massachusetts.
Boston's Old State House (1713)

Suzette and I checked out of the Washington Plaza Hotel just before 6.30am Sunday morning and caught a taxi to the airport. At 8.25am we boarded Jet Blue’s Embraer 190 jet for a short one and a half hour flight up to Boston. Arriving in time to attend Suzette’s regular Sunday morning church service at the Boston Church of Christ.

It was a beautiful experience to sit with the eight hundred strong congregation as we sang hymns and listened to the eloquent minister, Chip Mitchell, as he delivered his weekly sermon.

That night Suzette and her family, husband David, daughter Star, son-in-law Joe and granddaughters Bella and Lulu took me to dinner at a local Vietnamese restaurant. Star’s husband, Joe introduced me to a favourite Vietnamese dessert, the avocado smoothie; a delicious blend of ripe avocado, ice, milk and sweetened condensed milk. Known as “butter fruit” in Vietnam, avocados are used as a dessert ingredient throughout Southeast Asia.

Consignment Shoppers 'R' Us
Monday was the day Suzette had assigned to consignment shopping, (the American version of op shop shopping) after discovering we had a mutual love of finding pre-loved treasures. What fun we had! By late afternoon we were modelling our new outfits on Suzette and David’s back deck. I was particularly pleased with my skirt, t-shirt, denim jacket and shoes that came to the princely sum of $21.50 and Suzette found a beautiful designer evening coat for $45.

That evening, I volunteered to cook dinner for the three of us and we sat out on the deck with a glass of red wine each and enjoyed a meal of New Zealand lamb chops with fresh mint sauce, oven roasted potatoes and green salad.
David, myself and Suzette enjoying our dinner on the deck

Suzette’s adorable seventeen-year-old dog, Mojo, a beagle/cocker spaniel cross, wandered happily between us and successfully employed her beautiful soulful eyes to entice titbits from me.

Mojo the Adorable
A Puritan Gravestone in the Granary Burying Ground
The next day Suzette and I caught the train into Boston and Suzette gave me a personal walking tour of the city that was founded in 1630. We visited an ancient cemetery, the Granary Burying Ground (1660), with its Puritan gravestones; walked through the Omni Parker Hotel where JFK announced in January 1960, he would run for President and stopped to admire Faneuil Hall (1742), where Samuel Adams and James Otis made speeches in the 1700s encouraging independence from England.
Inside Faneuil Hall (1742)

Coffee Merchants 'R' Us - Annie and Suzette inside Polcari's Coffee
We walked down narrow cobblestone streets in Boston’s Little Italy to enjoy a delicious lunch at Antico Forno before calling in at Polcari’s Coffee and meeting the owners, Bobby and Nicki.
Polcari’s Coffee is an old world grocery store, brimming with rare coffees and spices from around the world and still looking much the way I imagined it looked when it opened in 1932.

Polcari's Coffee (1932)
On the way home we popped into one of Boston’s most famous bakeries, Mike’s Pastry, to pick up a treat for David. The decadent La Sfogliatella or Lobster Tail consists of layers of crusty baked pastry filled with a rich custard cream.

Wednesday was my final day touring Boston with Suzette. We navigated our way around the city via the hop on hop off, Old Town Trolley Tours; their entertaining drivers were a wealth of knowledge. Suzette also took me to the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum for a fascinating few hours.

Isabella Stewart Gardner (1840 – 1924) was a woman ahead of her times; an avid collector and philanthropist, Isabella had a passion for travel, entertaining and adventure. She spent more than thirty years traveling the world collecting art and antiques.

The collection itself is housed in Fenway Court, a building commissioned by Isabella and first opened to the public in 1903. Styled after a 15th-century Venetian palace, the museum is three storeys high with the galleries surrounding a central, sun and flower-filled garden courtyard. Sadly, photography is strictly forbidden within the museum and gardens, so I am unable to visually share any of the wondrous treasures we saw there.

Outside Cheers Beacon Hill
Back on our trolley tour, we made the Cheers bar (“Where Everybody Knows Your Name”) our final stop. Originally the Bull & Finch Pub, the exterior was used for the television sitcom, Cheers. It was renamed Cheers Beacon Hill in 2002 after the popular show, which ran from 1982 until 1993.

Initially we just planned on taking a few photos of the exterior before catching the train home to Suzette’s… What can I say? It was a hot day, we were feeling a little weary from all our sightseeing and before we knew it, as if by magic, we were sitting downstairs at the bar drinking 20oz jugs of Samuel Adams beer and chatting with the locals.
Enjoying a couple of beers at Cheers after a hot day touring Boston

Later, after a most entertaining two hours, we said our goodbyes and made it safely back to Milton and Suzette’s delicious, homemade lobster rolls for dinner. I planned on introducing Suzette and David to our famous Antipodean dessert, pavlova, as a final “Thank-you-for-having-me” treat before flying home to Australia the next day…

Note to self: too many beers at Cheers leads to less than impressive pavlova making.

I inadvertently (or some might say, unsurprisingly) misread the recipe and added too much vinegar to the mixture. The end result that evening was a chewy, sweet, flat meringue pancake… looks like I may have to come back one day, if only to resurrect the reputation of our national dessert…

Annie Barr