Monday, April 23, 2007

Pass the Lipitor

After a relatively miserable week of food at the CERN nuclear physics lab outside Geneva (menus proton and neutron at the cafeteria every day for four days, guuuuuhhhh) my friend Donat took me and some others to a lovely restaurant on the water at Lake Geneva. Apps of escargots and air-dried beef - the beef resembling a pastrami taste, fantastic, served with cornichons and pickled mushrooms - and a dinner of fresh lake perch meuniere. Local white wine, vinho verde-ish with an almost-fizz.

I was happy. Gorgeous clear late afternoon blended into a clear night. I was provided a glass of the local hard liquor. Relaxed and mellow.

Then dessert menus came out. I see a dish labeled "meringues de gruyere" - a hard sugar-and-egg meringue, topped with gruyere double cream - 48% fat, people - on top of two scoops of ice cream. I had to do it.

It may well have been the richest dish I have ever consumed. I struggled to finish it...but somehow, somehow, survived to the end. The picture above pulled from google images doesn't do it justice. If you ever get a chance, try it. Then call your doc to schedule that angioplasty you've been putting off.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Capone Foods - Union Square, Somerville

Capone Foods

One of the true hidden gems of the greater Boston area, Capone Foods makes restaurant-grade pasta and sauces as well as carrying staggeringly good balsamics.

It's a small shop, smaller than a grad student's apartment. You walk in and immediately on the right are several tall freezers packed with tasty goods. One is full of prepared pastas and dishes - parmigian of eggplant and chicken, stuffed shells, etc. - which I haven't tried.

The other freezers are the reason I make the trek to union square once every few months. Packed with amazing pasta, the kind of stuff that makes you appear to be a gourmet chef after 15 minutes of salted, boiling water.

The tortellini and gnocchi are superb. I can without hesitation recommend the smoked gouda, porcini, and bolognese tortellini, and also the sweet potato and chive gnocchis. The black pepper is something I love but you really gotta love black pepper :-)

There's a full freezer of sauces - fantastic putanesca, alfredo with shallots, marinara, porcini. the newburg sauce is exquisite.

Ravioli are also standout here. The lobster ravioli (pair with newburg!) is top shelf and I am addicted to the sweet potato version. There's a handy chart on the wall for pairing sauces and pastas out of the freezer, and great friendly service if you're stuck.

Rounding out the place is a set of barrels of olives, homemade ricotta, and the right to buy sheets and fresh cut pasta behind the counter. And if you're in the mood to spend $100 on a bottle of balsamic you're in the right place.

It's not in the most convenient place on earth - union square tends to disorient non-residents and people who haven't invested in learning the quirks of east somerville streets - but it's worth the effort. Not open after normal business hours during the week but open on saturdays. The web site is user-friendly and they'll deliver to you if you just can't get there..

Gets four stars from the visiting scientist.

Clearing out the cobwebs around here

It's not like that many people read this blog last year, but I've gotten enough requests to relaunch that I'm gonna give it a try.

Since I last blogged there's been a lot of change in my life. I'm living downtown in Boston, I'm still spending too many hours strapped into seat 42c, my kitchen underwent a 75% reduction and I do my laundry at the laundromat now. Guuuhhhhhhh. Other than the first part of that, seems sad.

But I've got a lot of good stories and diary entries stored up from the road, and a mandate from some friends to start aggressively documenting Boston foodstuffs and out-of-the-way restaurants. This is for you guys.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Make No Decision Out Of Fear

Quote from Bruce Sterling's closing keynote. I'm an unabashed Sterling fan, since I first read Distraction fifteen or so years ago. I have read most all of his stuff. Got a signed book. As I was about to run my patter on Bruce, John Perry Barlow showed up and Bruce went into "signing only, not chatting" mode. Fair enough; it's gotta suck signing books for an hour. JPB barely recognized me from our Kyoto night out, also fair enough...he meets a lotta folks.

SXSW is a very, very cool conference. Got in late yesterday, al pastor tacos and shiner bock with my friend Jess. We geek out, talk about scifi and the future, it's fun. The CC party is at the elks lodge and is nerd heaven. There is a pattern to these events: drinks at 8, speech at 9, first appearance of furtive cigarettes smoked by non smokers around 10, spastic nerd dancing at 11. The party follows this pattern precisely. There is amazing spastic nerd dancing. Cab home around 11:15, too much shiner bock...

A nice business hotel is a welcome thing after the last week. Big, comfy bed and nice towels. Privacy. Wifi. Good stuff.

Up early to convene the panel at the hotel starbucks. Starbucks is the leitmotif of my life over the last year. But it's a great thing. Antoun. Sri, a grad student of drew's at MIT. Susy who runs corporate standards at Sun and is a very, very good friend. Barbara, editor of PLoS Medicine. All fun, rowdy, smart, funny people. All but Antoun made the party last night; we're all a little in need of both caffeine and hydration.

Panel went better than I could have hoped. It's the first time I really feel like I knew how to moderate, to move conversations through a panel towards a goal, when to interrupt and when to let the panel find its own way. the hour flies by and we get barraged with great feedback. it will apparently be podcast and i'm going to download it to see if sounds as good on tape as it did on stage.

it's cool to see my picture in the main program. i feel a little weird about feeling that it's cool, but so be it.

lunch with a group of web 2.0 folks and some of my panelists at ironworks bbq. good bbq, not kreuz market, but still very good. i couldn't get a good shot of the "general and rectal surgery" sign hanging...bad light...the doctor's name was "sharpe"?

coming back here for sure next year. it's my kind of place. there is nowhere else you can network with this group of people in such a relaxed setting. it doesn't matter who you are or what you wear, as long as you're here. everyone is energized, techie, and cares about the issues. there are classic geeks, guys with pink hair, girls with cowboy hats and boots and skirts who are starting technology voter organizations, documentary filmmakers, hipsters, wannabe musicians, net celebrities, marketroids, college students, old school texans, everything. it's really a shot in the arm.

Hounding in Portland, OR

a great interlude weekend in a hard run of travel.

food pix at

portland pix at

dinner at montage friday night. hipster heaven, tattooed wait staff with little training but spectacular attitude. leftovers are twisted into two-foot tall foil origami. everything is cheap, the lighting is dim, the atmosphere rowdy. nine kinds of mac and cheese, lots of rice and pasta dishes. spam and frog legs permeate the menu. i passed on the spam and spicy mac and went with the ham and smoked cheddar mac.

slept late for body time if not local time. walked into the little village of the neighborhood where ben and terri live in southwest portland for coffee and pastry. dogs everywhere, clean air, big fluffy clouds and intermittent sun. the trees are just starting to burst here, forsythia bright yellow and loud with spring. four coffeeshops in three blocks. came back and went to the grocery with ben - something about groceries in the suburbs compared to my grim stop and shop in southie always makes me a little wistful as a cook.

ben got the smoker started and dropped on the ten pounds of canadian bacon that represented the first part of the bbq day. ross and ben are starting a smokehouse business and this is one of many training runs. also on the smoker today is a 20-lb beef shoulder that will cook down to about 10lbs after the fat renders, and we're also going to make and hang sausage. should be ready to eat in a few months. the next practice run is prosciutto and saucisson sec.

i'm on appetizers and chop duty, so make salsa and guacamole.

terri takes me into portland for a two-hour tour mid-day after the clod hits the smoker. portland is the hippiest town i've even seen. if i need a tapestry or my aura read, i know exactly where to go. there are apparently twelve places within five minutes of ross's house where you can buy nag champa incense. the downtown area is clean, orderly. the city is bisected by a river and there are a lot of bridges. there's a weekend market with lots of carnival food (corn dogs and curly fries) as well as hippie food (heavy on the middle eastern vegan style). handmade pottery, stained glass, hemp clothing. we walk across one of the bridges to look at a skateboard park tucked under the bridge.

back to the house to begin cooking in earnest. ross and ben slice the bacon for vacuum packing. we prep the table and start drinking the amazing beer that can be bought here. the clod is perfect, crusty and peppery on the outside and tender on the inside. we serve it kreuz market style with jalapeno, cheese, onion, avocado, salsa. ben also makes yorkshire pudding cups, puffy pastry drizzled with the drippings from the clod. it's so good.

then it's time to start cooking again. ross and ben start on the sausage, blending together beef and pork and spices and the microbes you have to add to a dry hang sausage to keep it from spoiling. as they start running the mix into the casings i start working on the green chile sauce; we're having enchiladas tonight and i know that i won't want to go back into heavy cooking mode again. i got most of the way through: braised the poblanos, onions, garlic til melting tender, braised the chicken in the mix, pureed the veggie mix back into the stock and shredded the chicken back in. all i have to do tonight is add in the sour cream and assemble enchiladas.

we were going to head to the coast today and get oysters but ben's got the edge of a cold, and i'm not eager to spend four hours in the car. we're instead cooking some of the bacon we made yesterday, eggs and biscuits and juice and strong coffee. then heading into town to the legendary powell's bookstore - which i'm told has a magnificent philosophy of science section.

Friday, March 03, 2006

online presence, techno nomadism

the social software bloggers talk a lot about presence. about how the generation below ours, or perhaps two below, thinks of the net as ever present. they don't really know what it means to be analog, to treasure a piece of plastic as the representation of music, to think of anything that can't be relatively effortlessly copied and transferred. to be lost. to need a dime for a phone call. to ask at the hotel desk where you can get a bite to eat.

to these folks, presence online is defining. think of the little icon in instant messaging software. mine is frequently grayed out, as i rarely leave it logged on but with an away message. this generation - there appear to be semi serious surveys on this - never does that. they tell their friends if they're sleeping, or studying, with the red icon, not by logging out. they're always present. they use the web from their phones. text messages are a way of life.

blackberries can be contemplated, from this perspective, as an infection of youth culture into business culture. they fill very different needs of course. there's a real business need in some fields for constant communication (this may be a pyhrric victory for the short term over the long term, we'll see). but i think few people really need them. those doing international transactions, for sure. no one wants to be chained to the desk through the night, just in case the deal comes through or goes crazy. anyone who works weird hours. people in high value service industries like law, accounting, stocks. people who need to be present.

nearly everyone asks me why i don't have one. i think it's because i don't need one. but i've been wondering why i don't need one, given that i do international transactions and work weird hours. i think it boils down to presence and how i manage mine.

i've got three primary email addresses at this point, which i check with very different levels of regularity. my work email is always on when i'm online, with a noise to let me know when new mail comes in. i'm always logged into AIM in that context, with similar noise alerts. i've got my computer set up to keep making noises after the screensaver kicks in, so i can hear communications incoming for up to an hour after i move away. i can sit around reading, cooking, eating, scratching, and still respond nearly instantly as long as i'm in earshot. to work email, that is.

it's great that no one can email me when i'm walking, given that i typically walk at least an hour a day. walking is a very balancing thing. i think a lot. i space out. my brain slots problems and solutions together. and i can't talk to anyone - i hate walking and talking on the cell. it's an enforced sojourn with my brain, with sensory input. last week i walked in the bitter cold from mit to harvard, without even really intending to do so or even noticing. it's only the lack of presence that lets me be that free.

i check my semi pro account and my personal accounts a lot less. i'll spend a few minutes in the morning and a few minutes in the afternoon on each one, sometimes time in the evening. but those accounts see a lot less presence than my work one. being present this way is a resource drain i only apply to work, or to people who actually get to use my work email without getting banished to yahooland. I don't really talk to non work people on IM.

IM used that way is like a virtual water cooler. I've got the team using group chats as a backend to our staff concalls now, and they're about used enough to it that I'm going to create a CC staff room that we can all just hang out in. This is a great way to manage a virtual team, but it takes a lot of time to get people used to the idea.

All of this is, in its own way, an emergent office behavior system. I once read a description of military etiquette (SIR YES SIR) as a way of behaving that made it easier for a bunch of guys to travel all over the world, doing incredibly weird stuff together, and not kill one another. I suppose, killing only those who are *outside* the system.

This system strikes me as a non killing system that makes it easier for a set of technonomads to stay in touch. my friends are scattered across the country and world, some of whom i only ever see by accident in airports. i know ceos, hollywood directors, rock stars and rock musicians, venture capitalists, and more. we stay in touch by email, almost exclusively. i know many of these people intimately though i see them at most once a year, and never talk to most of them on the phone. there's a personality representation that can come out through email that, disintermediated from physical self, is in some ways more honest and less forced. in some ways the physical reunions are a little forced in comparison to the ease of emails and lists.

It also makes me wonder about that generation below. I feel very fortunate. I remember music as a physical thing, something with *heft*, and both mourn and welcome the transition to bits. It's why i have vinyl records at home. i remember before cable. i remember before video games, when you could only get phones from at&t. i revel in my time online, as well as offline, in the digital and in the analog.

i wonder about the psychological impact of constant presence starting at age 5 and the impact of physical isolation as created by an ipod culture. i don't have one of those either, i like to listen to people on the bus; you'd be amazed what people will say into a cell phone two feet from you. i like being present online when i'm alone, and in the world when i'm in it.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Mardi Gras in Boston

Mardi Gras and Boston don't exactly go together. This is, after all, the town founded by people who thought England was too much fun in the 1600s, so they came to Cape Cod and New England to pass along smallpox, live a life of repressive religion and cook their food without spices. A lot of that still reverberates here: classic boston cooking tends to involve a hunk of white fish covered in breadcrumbs and broiled, then served without sauce or pepper.

The whole idea of a multiweek outdoor pagan celebration also doesn't work as well in the depths of a real winter.

There is a lot of Mardi Gras activity on the various ski resorts. Unfortunately nearly all of it happens after Fat Tuesday, which is even worse than having a Halloween party the week of Thanksgiving. I saw the Radiators at Killington one year in such an event, and when the doorman offered me beads I intoned that I'd given them up for Lent. Blank stare in return. New Orleanians love that story.

Anyhow. Last night the good folks at Harpers Ferry booked a real New Orleans show during the real Mardi Gras weekend. My friends in the band Juice came up for three nights with Brotherhood of Groove, and Big Sam (trombone player from the Dirty Dozen Brass Band) came along for the ride, sitting in with everyone. Boston Horns opened the show. Juice was a little sloppy but energetic, funky and well received.

It's easy to forget to go see music and your friends and dance and all that good stuff, especially when work is fun and fulfilling itself or when life is...hectic. But it's an imbalance. Mardi Gras is in its own way about addressing that - having fun in the face of impending abstinence, laughing at tragedy, inverting rituals. It's also about making fun a priority sometimes, an organized and specific part of life for a date certain. For a few days a year at least, Dionysus is in charge. He even gets his own parade in New Orleans. And I'm glad I got to see him last night, if briefly.

Monday, February 20, 2006

movie review: pink panther redux

Absolutely awful. Walked out an hour in.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Living in Public

180,000 miles in the air last year. 88 nights in hotels. Innumerable tagamet and maalox. I feel like the guy they made fun of in the onion sometimes - in case you don't know, the domestic terminal at SFO has great chow mein by the delta / northwest security gates.
Travel is weird. I have friends in rock bands, they travel even more than me. But they travel with other folks, a shared experience, with varying levels of support staff and stuff from the sublime (major label) to the ridiculous (my couch). I travel alone for the most part.

The last few months I've done a lot of thinking about it. What's good, what's bad. Why it's worth it. Why sometimes it's fun and sometimes it sucks. The fun part will define another post. This one's about some of the reasons it sucks.

For me it's about living without privacy. I like people. I like to talk to people. It's pretty much what I do for a living - go around, talk to people, try to get them to agree with what I'm doing and either join the movement or give me some funding to push the movement forward. But I'm a deeply private person and travel, for work or for play, rips privacy to shreds.

I love my apartment, my peace and quiet, my instruments, my pots and pans, my staple foods. I really like my own bed and towels. I like having a full set of clothes around. I don't really like houseguests, and the band couch above is one of the only exceptions to that rule. They don't come around a lot and I get a lot outta them.

I don't like the hours and hours of non private travel time. Right now I'm alone in the airport terminal, blogging because I don't want to watch TV in the airport bar or run through my book before the flight. The airport is a public space like the subway - no one talks to you unless they're drunk or think you're cutting in line. So we all pretend to have some privacy, we pretend not to smell the farts or notice the nosepicking. There is ubiquitous taupe, grey and blue carpeting. Ambient noise. I hate it. It doesn't stress me out anymore, but I still hate it.

Two nights ago, at dinner with a board member who travels way more than me (actually two of them, both of whom put me to shame) I heard him say that when he gets to the airport he enters a timefree, stressfree zone in his head. Never gets tense about lines, never thinks of where he is as being grounded in a specific time zone. It's a good way to think about it. I've certainly lost the habit of being stressed at the airport. But can't quite grip the time concept. He flies from Japan to Germany twice a month, so perhaps that's different.

This is all just carping because I wish I were going home instead of another hotel in another town. Ah well.