Sunday, November 7, 2010

Museums, Part II

To continue the museum fest, with a few "family-friendly" ones. Now, don't think that because kids will have fun at these places that adults won't enjoy them too. There is all kinds of fun to be had at these museums, and they do try (and mostly succeed) to keep everyone entertained.

New England Aquarium - Full of fish, as all aquariums should be, and in a great location right on the Harbor and the Rose Kennedy Greenway. Being on the water enables them to not only do the traditional aquarium thing, but also to do whale watches and other kinds of marine-biology centered boat trips from right at their front door. The central giant tank has a great diversity of creatures, and the resident penguins hanging out are such characters and fun to watch. They have rotating exhibits about all kinds of marine life, and then upstairs is a shallow pool where you can touch (with supervision) some of our local sea life (horseshoe crabs, sea stars, etc). They also have an IMAX theatre, some of what they show is educational, some of it is totally not. It is expensive to get in, but the Boston Public library does let you borrow a pass for 4 from any of its branches.

Museum of Science - The permanent things include kinetic sculptures to teach physics, live animal exhibits about biology, a butterfly greenhouse built into the top floor, exhibits on the sun, geology, dinosaurs, a lightning show, and way more things about how the world works,  too many to name right now. Traveling exhibits have been about Star Wars, time travel, the whole gamut. There's also a planetarium that does laser shows along with the regular night-sky stuff, and an IMAX theatre that's on a dome, much more immersive than a flat screen. Members here get special benefits too, a library, cheaper parking, and invitations to special events at the museum, especially the 4th of July fireworks viewing party on the roof of the parking garage. 

Harvard Museum of Natural History/ Peabody Museum - Tucked behind the main yard on Oxford St, this is an old school natural history museum with lots of taxidermy animals and skeletons, which is either grotesque or morbidly cool, depending on how you look at it. The blue whale skeleton hanging in one of the main halls is amazing. There is a great fossil  and mineral collection and also an incredibly beautiful larger than life glass flower collection. Attached to the natural history museum is the Peabody which has exhibits on Mayan culture, some Pacific Island stuff, and North American First Nations. Free on Sunday morning and Wednesday evening to Massachusetts residents.

Monday, November 1, 2010


The cold weather is finally here for good (I think). And with cold weather comes rain and snow and just generally times when you don't want to be outside.
So this post and the next one will be a few recommendations for museums. I know museums don't always seem that interesting, but these are worth a look I promise. The Boston area is blessed to have a wide variety of truly good museums, from art museums to natural history to cars. Some are on the pricier side, but if you're a resident of the state of Massachusetts, if you go to your local library or the Copley branch of the BPL, you can probably get at least a coupon if not a free pass to most of them. There are also lots of free hours, which I will point
These are art museums, though certainly not all of the art museums in this city. I'll make sure to mix up some other museum types in the next post.
The Museum of Fine Arts is a great art museum, and has some really unique work in its collection. It is pricey ($20 admission), but when you consider how huge it is and the fact that one ticket gets you in for two days (as long as it's within 10 days of  your first visit), it's not so bad. Also, Bank of America card holders get in free, anyone under 17 gets in free, and on Wednesday nights, all admission is free. There are Asian, American, African, and European collections, along with several rotating exhibition spaces. And on the first Friday of every month, there's live music, cash bar, and tapas, all for just the price of admission. There is also a theatre which shows all kinds of interesting movies. This is a great place to take your kids, especially since on vacation days, they often have activities and other interesting programs for them. When the weather's nice, one of my favorite things to do is go for a walk or even a picnic along the Fens which is right next door, and then head over to the museum. On Huntington Ave, and the E train, and #39 bus line.
The Institute of Contemporary Art used to be in the Back Bay, but a few years ago it moved to a gorgeous brand new building on the waterfront, near South Station. The exhibition space is mostly devoted to traveling shows and they often have really cool ones. There are also dance performances and movies in the theatre, and the view from the top floor is really unique, a view of Boston from an angle that you don't usually get unless you're on a boat. Thursday nights are free, and it's either a short walk from South Station or the World Trade Center stop on the Silver Line.
Isabella Stewart Gardiner Museum was the home of Isabella Stewart Gardiner and her art collection. There is also a great glass covered courtyard (that's what's in the picture) that is really nice all seasons, but especially in the winter when the lush green is a bit of a pick-me-up. The art in this museum is organized according to how Ms. Gardiner wanted, so there are all kinds of interesting adjacencies, paintings in places you wouldn't expect, so it adds another level of interest even beyond the art and the courtyard. Also the scene of one of the largest art thefts in history. They do a music and food event on the third Thursday of each month, which you do have to buy tickets to, great fancy night out though. On Huntington Ave, and the E train, and #39 bus line.

Friday, October 22, 2010

The Great Divide

And now for the  musings part of this blog. I don't mean to offend anyone with this post... Just give y'all a gentle, friendly shove!

You Boston people who think there's nothing in Cambridge but Harvard and MIT? Give the place a shot. Kendall Sq, Central Sq, Inman Sq, Porter Sq, and if we slip over to Somerville, Union and Davis all have good shops, restaurants, even clubs, theaters and music venues. Almost everything is on the red line or within a 10 minute walk of it, completely easy to get to, and tons of stuff.

Cambridge people who think Boston is too busy, too touristy, whatever? Let yourself see more of the city than just Newbury and Fenway. Chinatown, the South End, East Boston, Jamaica Plain, they're all on the T and full of way more than just tourists and financial district suits.

There are great things on both sides of the river, and 6 bridges (I'm counting Weeks) to cross it, so stop thinking the other side of the river is too far, it's really only another 10 minutes on the train. Enjoy the whole metropolis, people. I'm not saying don't be proud of your hometown, just, you don't have to pick sides, spread the love around!

Those of you from here I'm sure have experience with all of this and don't need to keep reading, but for those of you from someplace else:
On a map, Boston and Cambridge, (and let's include Somerville too since it's the north side of the river's equivalent to Jamaica Plain) look like one big mass of density, divided into a northern and southern section by the Charles River. Cambridge is north, Boston is south. But there are some major differences.
To start, Boston is bigger, even if you mush the north bank into  Camberville. And correspondingly, has a much bigger population; triple I think.
Then there's history. Cambridge is older, and a quintessential college town, Harvard has been there almost since day one. Boston, meanwhile, is a few years younger, and was founded as a shipping center. It makes sense that the two towns would end up so different based on their very different beginnings.
Now, Boston has way more universities than Camberville, I'm not even going to try to count, but it also has all kinds of other industries. East Cambridge's brief stint as a candy manufacturing hub is all but completely gone, and it's back to being a city of universities and the tech/ "knowledge based" jobs that their graduates fill. Cambridge is quieter, in the purely volume sense of the word, and has church steeples sticking up instead of high rises (Kendall is the exception here). Boston is busier, with a financial district and major sports venues.
Of course, all of this is an incredible oversimplification. I've left out the Hatian and Portuguese populations of Cambridge, all of Southie, East Boston, etc., it would just take way too long to get into all of that. Needless to say the two cities have a lot of differences, but they are both totally worthy of spending time in them, and full of interesting incredibly diverse populations and things to do.

Thursday, October 21, 2010


With the farmer's markets winding down for the season (some will continue til the end of this month, but that's about it), it's time to start thinking about where to get good produce over the winter.
There are a couple of non-supermarket options, the SoWa Market will have some foodstuff after Oct 31, but not much fresh, and then there are rumors about a winter market in Somerville, but so far they're just rumors.

And that brings me to what I've found to be the best option: Boston Organics. They are an amazingly affordable, weekly or biweekly delivery service for organic fresh fruits and vegetables. They deliver to most places in the Boston area, in reusable boxes, and everything is really fresh and yummy.
They let you pick how much produce you want, the proportion of fruits to vegetables, and foods you absolutely do not want to receive. There are also some "add ons" that you can order, like bread and cheese and chocolate, and you can adjust your order up until the day before you get it.
All of the products they sell are sourced as close to Boston as possible, and are organic. In the dead of winter, they will send you bananas that are not from New England, but they will also send you wonderful bunches of kale, potatoes, all kinds of produce from close by.These guys are a great service, I get the $29 box every other week and it's perfect for the two of us, we almost never go buy other fruits and veggies.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Chowder and BBQ

Quick note about something cool going on this weekend, there's a BBQ rib tasting/ street fair in East Cambridge that is going to include some of my favorite restaurants in town. East Coast Grill, Tupelo, Atwoods, and more will have food. And there's going to be live music as well. Stop by on Sunday and enjoy some food and fun. The ribs are the reason for the tasting, but apparently they will have other food too.
And now, for something completely different: A couple weeks ago, I went to a chowder cook off on Spectacle Island (scroll down a few entries, you'll see the details) but I've since realized I haven't talked about chowder, or where to get the good stuff. 
There are a few versions of chowder floating around out there in the universe: Manhattan, thick New England, and thin New England. Manhattan has tomatoes in it, and I don't think it should really be called chowder at all, since chowders are supposed to have a cream base. I don't know of any good Manhattan clam chowder in the Boston area, but then I haven't really gone looking (feel free to tell me in the comments if you know any). 
That leaves us with thick New England and thin New England. As far as I can tell, thin New England is the original, and I'm basing this on access to some seriously old cookbooks, none of which call for much of any thickener in their recipes for chowder.
I won't be telling you where to get the really gloppy stuff, it's so thick it should be called dip or something, and not eaten unless you're really ok with consuming that much flour inside your soup. But there are some that are moderately thick and quite good. The two big ones in Boston are Legal's (too many locations to name) which has won multitude of taste tests, and Summer Shack (Back Bay and Alewife) which has slightly less seasoning, but is still good. Another medium thick chowder that is worth trying is at Durgin Park (Quincy Market), I know that whole part of town can be overly tourist-y, but Durgin really is a pretty good restaurant, especially their oyster bar downstairs.
Thin is harder to find, especially the really traditional kind. For non-traditional, East Coast Grill is my favorite. It has sweet potatoes, chili, lots of clams, and is a great "bbq" interpretation. Woodman's in Essex, best known for their fried clams (which are the best in the world, I think) is a really solid standby for wonderful, thin, home style chowder. You do have to drive to get there, but it's a really nice drive on 133 and in the off season, it's pretty much only locals, so the long lines that can go down the block in the summer virtually disappear.

Sunday, October 10, 2010


It's getting to be prime foliage season, and great weather to go for a drive or hop on a train and see the beautiful the leaves. 
The best drive I think is to go out Route 2, there's tons of conservation land all around it, a bunch of parks and reservations (including Walden Pond and Wachusett) to stop and hike/ walk around at along the way. 
Another option is to take the Mass Pike out west, then just after 290, get to Route 20 and then west. Route 20 is the old highway that ran east - west through the state before they built the Pike, so it goes through all the same gorgeous Berkshire hills, just at a slower speed so you can actually enjoy the view. Along 20 or just a quick drive from it, there are several orchards that still have apples to pick. You'll also pass by Northampton, MA which is a great university town, perfect place to get lunch or dinner. And if you drive all the way out to the NY border,  Furnace Brook Winery has great wine and they're also an orchard.

If you want to see leaves minus a car, there are a couple of options. One quick option is to just take the commuter rail out to Worcester. Enjoy the view along the way and once you're in Worcester, you can wander around town and have some lunch, and hop a train back.
For a bit longer trip, the Amtrak Lakeshore Limited is a daily train leaving from South Station. If you get off at Pittsfield, you can spend some time in town, get a cab to a B&B in the hills, enjoy. Or you can go to Albany and transfer to the Ethan Allen Express and go all the way up to Rutland, VT for a beautiful weekend.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Enjoying the season

Fall is a totally packed season for me: lots of holidays, lots of birthdays, and as you may have noticed, lots of festivals. 
Managed to make it over to the chowder cook off yesterday, on Spectacle Island. The weather was perfect, warm enough to walk around with a T-shirt, but cool enough to want some chowder. The chowder fest was not as big as we had hoped, but we did eat some amazingly creative, yummy chowder. The salmon with rosemary was really great.
Spectacle Island is absolutely beautiful, and an amazing project. Built on a reclaimed landfill, there are paths around the whole island and you can walk to the top of the drumlins to get a great view of Boston and the other islands. Everything is green about the project, from the planting to the visitor's center which is solar powered, and so are all of the vehicles on the island. The ferry out there is $14 round trip, for both Spectacle and George's Islands. In the summer, you can swim on the beaches, and rent kayaks at both. Take a picnic or even a tent and camp overnight in the summer on George's.

The festivals I've been talking about continue throughout the month, and there's no way I can list all of them, but there are few more that I have to mention: 
Oktoberfest in Harvard Square is next weekend, Sunday October 10th. A parade leaves from Davis Sq and goes to Harvard Sq, where there will be lots of vendors, food, rides, all kinds of fun. Harvard Sq festivals are always packed but always a good time. Since there's no admission fee, even if you just pass through, it's totally worth it.  
Somerville Harvest Festival is also next weekend, on Saturday October 9th. It is ticketed, $20 gets you unlimited beer and tastes from all the various local restaurants. There are also bands playing, a fashion show, and you get to meet all kinds of interesting vendors. Last year's festival was great, I can't wait for this one! E and I bought our tickets early, but as I'm writing this I just checked, there are some tickets left. If you're free on Saturday, it's a great way to spend the day.

The Wellfleet Oyster Festival is becoming a tradition, and this year two of my sisters are coming, it should be a great time. It's the weekend of October 16th. The Oyster Festival is like a great town fair, just at a town that happens to be home to some of the best oysters in the world. There's a shucking contest, food from local restaurants (most of it features oysters), oyster shaped chocolates, a stage with various bands playing, a chance to learn about oyster farming, a road race, and I'm sure I'm leaving out more.

And, totally not on a schedule, apple picking is gonna be great all this month. My personal favorite place to go apple picking is Russell Orchards. They not only have great apples, they have wine, cider, donuts, ice cream, and all kinds of little gourmet treats. On the road to Crane Beach, it's the perfect place to stop by after a walk behind the dunes. In the summer, it can be way too hot to hike the trails behind the dunes, but on a nice sunny fall day, it's great.