Photo by Oefe, user under Creative Commons license

Surprisingly: no beans

In retrospect, February may not have been the best time for a trip to Boston. But of course I didn’t think about that when a Porter seat sale prompted us to visit a new city. Yes, new city: somehow neither of us had ever made it to Boston.

The trip started out well enough: it was snowing when we left Toronto last Friday, but not so much that our flight from the island was delayed. We landed in Boston with no problems, fat fresh snow falling on banks built high in the previous week’s blizzard. My sense of direction is usually pretty good, but I was more than a little disoriented by the time our cab reached our hotel, the XV Beacon. Luckily, in addition to a ton of space and a nice gas fireplace, our room had a great view of Boston Common, so I was centered again. That fireplace, it turns out, would come in handy.

We were already hungry, so we homed in on a nearby place known for both good food and good beer for a late lunch. We took the long way, walking through a bit of the Common where we saw kids ice skating and guided tours of the Freedom Trail starting, before finding ourselves a barstool at Stoddard’s.  Our food was great, and they had some serious American craft brew on tap: I had a Narragansett porter and and a Left Hand milk stout, while Nellie had a Harpoon UFO Belgian white and a Brash “The Bollocks” IPA. We left there pretty fat and happy.

We walked a tiny bit of that off by circling the Common and Public Gardens, getting our bearings, figuring we’d do the heavy-duty touring the next day. We saw a little more of Beacon Hill, and had dinner at Bin 26, a wine bar not far from our hotel. It was okay, but didn’t blow either of us away. Still, any place with that many wines by the glass has to be commended, even if the wine list is like a puzzle. We walked back to our room in the chilly night, past the golden dome of the State House to our hotel, and planned our adventures for the next day while  the downtown lights gave us a little reminder of home.

Plan, schman. Turns out something the Weather Channel called “winter storm Plato” decided to show up and pelt Boston with a wicked (see what I did there?) blast of snow and cold. We set out with every intention of trying to see some of the Freedom Trail, but it was just too cold and windy…we got maybe a few blocks before the ice pellets stinging our eyes drove us inside. We couldn’t bear the thought of retreating to the hotel though, and decided to jump on the subway.

Needless to say, I had The Kingston Trio’s “MTA” playing in my head from the moment we bought that ticket. We decided to go way out to Allston, in the middle of Boston College and Harvard and a bunch of other schools, to try a place called Deep Ellum…the top-rated beer place in Boston. It was a long, brutal walk through the storm from the train stop to the pub; getting through a door never felt so good. It was packed with students scarfing down hangover brunch, but we found two seats at the end of the bar. Despite being twice the age of anyone else in the place we got asked for our ID. Incroyable!

The beer selection was impressive: the draft list alone consisted of a couple dozen American craft brews I’d never even heard of, and we  took full advantage. I had a Jack’s Abby “Smoke and Dagger” smoked lager, a Pretty Things “Saint Botolph’s Town” rustic dark ale, a Rising Tide “Daymark” rye APA, and a Jack’s Abby “Saxonator” dopplebock, while Nellie had a Wormtown “Petite Belma” IPA, a High and Mighty “Beer of the Gods” German ale, a Pretty Things “Baby Tree” quadrupel, and a Green Flash “Palate Wrecker” IPA. Food-wise we had a nice soft pretzel, some sausage & mustard, and poutine (!) with duck gravy. We wrapped up with one more (another Palate Wrecker for Nellie, and a stout on cask that I don’t quite remember) before starting the return trip. It was still brutally cold, but at least the ice pellets had stopped hitting us in the face.

We got back to the hotel and made full use of it for the rest of the afternoon, taking long hot showers, curling up in front of the fireplace, watching travel shows about warm destinations. We weren’t up for another excursion when it came to eating dinner; luckily Mooo (a new steakhouse) is in the hotel’s basement, so we ate there. It was pretty decent: Nellie had lobster bisque and filet mignon, while I had short rib croquettes and prime sirloin, paired with a 2007 Heitz Cabernet Sauvignon. After spending the whole afternoon at Deep Ellum we needed that food in our stomachs too.

We went out the next morning with every intention of doing at least some of the sights on the Freedom Trail, but didn’t get far…it was still fantastically cold. We got as far as the Boston Massacre site and turned back for the hotel. A shower and some packing later and it was time to go. I have to say, the whole process of flying out — from getting to the airport (in the hotel’s Lexus SUV house car) to checking in (no lineups, and friendly, funny TSA agents!) to waiting to board (lunch at a Vino Volo and painless boarding) to the super-smooth flight — was one of the most painless travel experiences we’ve ever had. Always good when a trip wraps up like that.

So, while it wasn’t a bad trip — indeed, we had a lot of fun — it was certainly limited by the weather. Clearly we’ll need to go back, not just to see what the city is like in the warm sun, but also to further explore a feeling we both had almost immediately about Boston…that it feels an awful lot like Halifax. I guess that makes sense — both are old North American cities, not terribly far apart, designed largely by the British around the mid-18th century — but we still both had the strong feeling of familiarity almost immediately upon arriving. The commons in the middle of the city, the public gardens, the waterfront, the wealth of colleges (though Boston’s are certainly more prestigious), the unusually strong ties between the cities with traditions like the annual Commons Christmas tree and the love of Boston sports teams in Nova Scotia…it all made Boston feel familiar to two people who consider Halifax kind of their spiritual home. And just as we’d never assume good weather before travelling to Halifax, but trusting to find its’ charm indoors and out, so we’ll plan a return trip to Boston someday.


Photo by Oefe, user under Creative Commons license

Is it spelled Thirphy? Or Thurphy?

Well, that was quite a weekend.


For Nellie’s birthday weekend I had decided to surprise her by flying two of her best friends — the Murphy girls — in from Halifax.  My plan was well-thought-out and probably would have come off cleanly but for two things: a massive snowstorm wreaked havoc with flights into Toronto on Friday, and Nellie started drinking at Bryden’s with co-workers at noon. So now I was dealing with two forces of nature messing with the plan.

Fortunately I steered Nellie (along with half a dozen of her co-workers) to AAA and enlisted their help with the surprise. It wasn’t easy, but we kept her under control and oblivious while, after an epic travel ordeal, the girls arrived. There was an long, amusing moment when Nellie didn’t recognize one lifelong friend but did recognize the older sister, but that was soon overcome. And then the crying started. And lasted for about ten minutes. We finally got ourselves out of there and trudged through the snow back to our place, where we opened wine and listened to music and watched Nellie run and up and down the hallway yelling “Best! Birthday! Ever!” (vraiment?) The co-workers retired shortly after 1AM and we finally let the weary travellers get some sleep.

We dragged our asses up the next morning, not feeling our best but determined to maximize our day together. Some Fahrenheit coffee helped wake us up, and peameal bacon sandwiches from Carousel settled our tummies. We spent the afternoon catching up, napping, watching The Hunger Games, and scratching cat bellies. Eventually Nellie needed a little more nap action, so the Murphy girls and I walked through the quiet downtown to one of their favourites: Chipotle. After eating one of their near-football-sized burritos we were all worried about our ability to take on our big dinner planned for that night at Richmond Station.

We’d been meaning to try this place since it opened — it’s so close to us, and had been getting great reviews. The four of us met up with two more friends, MLK, and decided on the chef’s menu + wine pairings for the table. And manomanoman, were we glad we did. In retrospect it would have been a grand idea to write down the courses, but I was too busy eating. I skipped the oysters but loved the lobster puffs, paired with an Organized Crime Fumé Blanc. There was a great honking pile of a few different salads, replete with fried head cheese, paired with a fantastic Chablis. Then the main course: an enormous platter of pork…pork in all various forms, including kielbasa flowers (which is what I’m naming my band someday) and wild boar loin…it was epic. It was also paired with a truly stellar Rosewood Riesling. We were all about to pop, so luckily the next course was a small but tasty sampling of cheeses, paired with a Gamay. Finally, dessert: and while we didn’t let the kitchen know it was Nellie’s birthday, it was as if they’d customized it to her. De-constructed carrot cake, de-constructed apple pie, and a lemon mousse-ish thing with a crispy camomile foam. We each ordered a glass of Lailey late harvest Vidal. And then we were well and truly done. It was an outstanding meal, and I see us going back a lot from now on.

This morning was a little easier to face, but we were still full from the night before. Finally, around 10:30, hunger drove us down to Hank’s for breakfast. Then it was time for the Murphy girls to return home, thankfully with clearer skies than those which welcomed them here. We were said to see them go, but the whole weekend’s effort might have been worth it just for this moment.

Thurphy girls

Happy birthday, Nellie.


About a year ago when Thomas Bachelder released his three 2009 Chardonnays we put one of each away, intending to open them about a year later with our friends Kaylea & Matt.

Last night we opened them, and we called it Bachelderannalia.

We actually started off with a 2008 Benjamin Bridge sparkling rosé. Well, the girls did; Matt and I had beer. Both went with the different cheeses we’d picked up — a cloth-bound cheddar, a triple creme, and something American that tasted like espresso. But then it was time to get into the main event.

We tried each one, made our notes, guessed at which was which, and picked our favourites. In the end, both Kaylea and I picked the three wines correctly. While we disagreed somewhat, the Niagara chard was collectively declared the favourite.

While we finished off the bottles, Matt cooked up a bunch of his homemade sausage, all of which was fucking delicious. We drank Tawse Members Select Chardonnay and Five Rows Pinot Noir, and an ill-advised bottle of Marynissen Cab Franc. The evening ended abruptly when Nellie yelled “Danger!” and stalked off to bed.

It was a fun night, an interesting lesson in terroir, and a perfectly good excuse to eat a huge pile of sausage. Success!