An amazing weekend trip

There’s just something about trips to Boston that makes me want to write blog posts.

I spent Friday through Sunday traveling to Boston and Manchester, NH. It was an incredible weekend of music, food, and fun. I’ll try to make the length of this post shorter than the weekend itself – but it might be a close call.

The music

Jonathan Coulton in SomervilleThe initial reason for my trip was a concert in Somerville’s Davis Square, just outside Boston. The performer? Jonathan Coulton.

I enjoy a wide enough variety of music that answering the classic “who’s your favorite artist?” question is pretty difficult for me. There’s a good chance you’ve never heard of JoCo, but I believe he’d be the artist at the top of my list of favorites. He performs catchy, smart, and geeky music with topics ranging from zombies to Laika, the first dog in space (and pretty much everything in between).

Usually a JoCo show consists of nothing more than Coulton and his guitar (and often the hilarious duo of Paul and Storm). That was the case when I saw him in concert back in November 2008. This time, the envelope was pushed; he added bass and drums to his act for two Massachusetts shows. I knew I didn’t want to miss that.

My good friends Ian and Kelley also said they’d like to go, and coincidentally the concert happened to fall on their son Mannix’s birthday. The concert was Mannix’s first “grown-up” concert, and there couldn’t have been a better choice. He clapped along to “Shop-Vac” and apparently sang the “all we want to do is eat your brains” line of “Re Your Brains” all the way home. His face lit up when Coulton played “Skullcrusher Mountain,” a song he’d heard and loved while riding around with Ian and Kelley in the car.

The concert itself was great. Jonathan played some songs solo and really rocked the songs that were backed with drums and bass. He also played a half-dozen new songs, most of which I expect to be stuck in my brain for quite a bit of time to come. The set included a couple of my favorite JoCo tunes that I’d never heard live: “Blue Sunny Day” and “Big Bad World One.” (I’ve uploaded a few videos of the show, and there are many more online as well.)

After the concert, the four of us waited around in the beautiful Somerville Theatre. Jonathan came back out while the crew packed up equipment, and he was nice enough to take a photo with Mannix. (JoCo is a dad himself; if you’re a parent, I think you might appreciate “You Ruined Everything.”)

The venue was perfect for the show: fairly large, but intimate. It was a great experience and a great performance by a great artist. You can’t beat a theatre full of people singing along with every word of “Skullcrusher Mountain.” That’s nothing short of magical.

The food

Over the course of three days, I ate meals in seven cities around Maine, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire.

Before the concert on Friday, I met up with my friend Melody in Cambridge to eat at Picante in Central Square. I had a great chicken burrito along with one of the many salsa options they offered at the restaurant.

On Sunday morning I went with Ian, Kelley, and Mannix to IHOP. I normally don’t mention chains when reviewing food, but I have to say, the stuffed French toast with strawberries, hash browns, and eggs has been pretty tough to forget.

The highlight of Saturday’s dining were the “never-melting ice cream cones” Kelley had made for Mannix’s birthday party. These cupcakes-in-cones were dangerously addictive, and they might find their way onto a menu of my own.

The fun

One of my favorite parts about Boston trips is the subway. I bought a one-day pass at Alewife and spent a fair portion of the afternoon cruising around on the Red and Green Lines. My first stop was Prudential. My original destination was the Apple Store, but I ended up spending a bit of time in the beautiful Christian Science Plaza.

After taking some photos, I headed down Boylston to the large glass-fronted store. There I was ecstatic to find a Camera Connection Kit for my iPad (I wasn’t patient enough to endure the 2-6 week delay on Apple’s site). I tried it out later in the weekend, and although it’s not exactly the same as my desired iPad functionality for photos, it’s a pretty darn good match.

The weather was beautiful, so I decided to skip the Green Line (my least favorite branch of the T) and walk down Boylston to Park Street. It was a really nice walk, even though it started to sprinkle a bit. I stopped at Au Bon Pain for a sandwich and resisted the lovely pastries that tempted my senses on the way into the store.

The weather didn’t cooperate quite so much when I emerged from the Red Line at Kendall Square. I managed to walk to Central and pick something up for Mannix’s party at the MIT Museum, but the rain had started to fall as I realized that I didn’t quite know Cambridge as well as I’d hoped. I found my way, but by the time I reached Central my shirt was drenched.

It’s pretty interesting to watch people in a city react to rain, though. In Maine we just go to our cars. In Boston people either find shelter or walk faster.

Mannix’s Willy Wonka birthday party on Saturday was a lot of fun, too. It even included a bounce house and, of course, Ian and I needed to make sure it worked correctly before we let the kids play around in it. The party was a great time, and the kids seemed to really love the Wonka-themed activities.

On Sunday I hopped back in the car, popped on the iPod (love that car integration), and listened to a couple of podcasts on the way home. These kinds of weekends definitely lead me to want to travel more often.

July 26, 2010 at 8:50 pm

Chocolate & peanut butter graham sandwiches

Graham cracker sandwich with ice creamMy mom has always raved about a simple treat my grandmother enjoys making as a dessert. I’ve been lucky enough to enjoy them on a few visits, too. The idea is simple: melt some chocolate chips, add some peanut butter, and sandwich the warm mixture between two graham crackers. Refrigerate them for a bit, and you’ll have a light snack or dessert perfect for the summer.

Mom and I made a batch over the weekend, but we added a bit of a kick: a scoop of cookie dough ice cream on top. I think we found a winner. Once home, I did a bit of experimenting and found that Ben & Jerry’s Half Baked is another great option for a topper.

Both variations of these little suckers have helped me overcome these hot summer days. (Chocolate always seems to have a way of doing that.)

July 12, 2010 at 8:49 pm

The JARbor Bar

Harbor Bar at Jordan PondThose of us who live in Maine have the opportunity to experience the Harbor Bar, a frozen delight first introduced to me by Kelly, one of the partners at Sephone, during a particularly rough period at work. For those of you who are unenlightened, a Harbor Bar is a chocolate chip cookie vanilla ice cream sandwich encased in a chocolate shell. I usually pick them up at either the Jordan Pond Gift Shop or at the Hull’s Cove General Store in Bar Harbor (get it? Bar Harbor? Harbor Bar?).

Recently I decided to make one for myself. I’d made a batch of chocolate chip cookies, and, as is often the case, my freezer was stocked with various kinds of ice cream. I chose to up the ante a bit: I replaced the normal vanilla ice cream with some Edy’s Cookies ‘n Cream yogurt. (Note that I used frozen yogurt. That makes this treat healthy, of course.) I melted some chocolate chips and butter together, dipped the sandwiches in, and voila: the JARbor Bar.

The JARbor Bar

Rest assured, I’ll be trying this again. They’re a bit messy at first; it pays to let them sit in the freezer for a while, though it’s tough to resist a taste as you make them. The next time around I’ll probably try freezing the sandwiches first, dipping them in chocolate after the ice cream has frozen up a bit, and then freezing the sandwiches again to minimize meltage. But really, a little bit of a mess is well worth the reward.

July 11, 2010 at 1:09 pm