Tagged: boston

Stoked for pies that r round

One of the small upsides to a torrential rain at lunchtime is that there’s nearly zero line at the food trucks. Finding myself at Dewey square in the company of old favorites Bon Me and Mei Mei, I opted for the as yet untried (by me) Stoked Wood Fired Pizza truck. How do they get a wood fired oven in a truck and how do they get a permit for something that sounds, even on a rainy day, like a recipe for a dramatic and garlic-infused explosion? I have no idea, but I ordered the mushroom pizza anyway.

Mushroom pizza from Stoked
Made on the spot, the mushroom pie includes mozzarella, pecorino romano, seasoned mushrooms, roasted garlic, and truffle oil. (listed as “optional,” but why would one opt out of truffle oil??) Also present but not mentioned, caramelized onions. It took a few minutes to prepare and cook, but even after a five minute slog back to the office, it was still hot and crispy.

They should call this the umami pizza. From the pecorino to the mushrooms and truffle and garlic it was full of salty (not a pejorative in my book) savory umami-y goodness. And while the char on the bottom might put some off, I found the smoky note comforting on a cold day.

A hungry person could easily eat an entire thin crust pie from Stoked, and I recommend doing so at your earliest convenience. After all, even with a wood-burning oven on board, this truck will probably go into hibernation with the others sometime in November.


MisseT Connections

It’s hard to impose order on systems that grow organically, like world-class cities. It’s also hard to create a coherent public transit system in an imperfect society. That said, there are three seemingly small gaps in the Boston public transit system that continue to baffle and confound:

Why is it so hard to get from North Station to South Station? To be fair, this sort of thing is not uncommon in the world. Remember that time you thought you were leaving Brussels Nord but your train was really at Zuidstation? Yeah, that was a barrel of laughs.

If somebody asks me for such directions in the T, I just shake my head and tell them to head up the nearest stairs to the street and walk to take a cab. It’s very likely that either method would be faster than a trip on the red and green or orange lines.

If you’re trying to get from one half of the commuter rail system to the other, you may be able to cheat by using Back Bak or Porter Square, but if you’re trying to take Amtrak from one side of Boston (for example, Maine) to the other (New York, for instance), you’ve got an awkward transfer on your hands.

Proposals for a North-South rail link have been kicking around for some time but remain in limbo at this time. This state of affairs is rendered all the more shameful now that South Station is the gateway to the Innovation District.

Why Can’t You Get from the Red Line to the Blue Line? This has been a problem for ages, but it’s a far more obvious gap now that Government Center is out of commission for a couple of years, meaning that State Street is the sole connection between the Blue Line and the rest of the system.

The prevailing thought here is to extend the Blue Line from Bowdoin to Charles Street to meet up with the Red line. With that done and Government Center back in business, you’d be able to get from any of the four main lines to any of the others directly.

The distance along Charles Street for a Red-Blue connector is about 1,500 feet. Tunneling the whole distance would cost a zillion dollars and require a new underground station beneath Charles. The estimable Amateur Planner has a modest proposal to connect the lines with a bit of tunnel and some elevated track to match up with the elevated Red Line at Charles. This would cost only half a zillion dollars, and I must say, looks like a whole lot better solution to me. Don’t hold your breath.

Why is the Silver Line split at South Station? OK, this is far less serious a gap than the other two, but it’s also far far easier to fix. the SL1 and SL2 that take you to Logan Airport, the Innovation District, and other points in South Boston. The SL4 and SL5 (don’t ask what happened to the SL3) take you between Dudley Square and central Boston. SL1, SL2, and SL4 all converge at South Station, but to get from Dudley so the airport or Innovation District requires a transfer, which seems a pointless delay when the lines use the same vehicles and the same station.

The Red Line is not divided into two segments, Alewife-South Station and South Station-Braintree/Ashmont. Why should the Silver Line be so? Are the people who live in Dudley Square not interested in jobs in the Innovation District or air travel?

Embarrassing gaps in the T

These gaps have been annoying, costly and inconvenient for years, but inertia on the North South and Red Blue connectors seems especially inexcusable in light of the city’s current trajectory and the development of the MBTA system. The South Boston Innovation District is getting all kinds of emphasis, transit oriented developments like Assembly Row and North Point are on the rise. The Green Line Extension through Somerville may actually be happening. There’s likely to be a Casino somewhere in the area soon. Why are all these new places to live and work not being connected better through the core of the city? If we want to avoid even more terrible car traffic, we’d better get digging. It’s either a world-class city or it’s not.

Second Little Pig: Vindicated

Since the googles said it was faster to walk from the Innovation District to South Station than to take the Silver line, that’s what I did. It was hot and humid but I’m glad I did because otherwise I would not have passed by BSAspace and dropped in for some AC. And had I not done that, I would not have seen an enchanting and informative exhibit called Urban Timber: From Seed to City, all about building with wood.

Mesopotamian plywood!

The gob-smacking revelations started right away. Did you know that plywood was invented by the Mesopotamians more than 5,000 years ago? Mind = Blown. It’s not just about plywood, there are many kinds of wood-based building materials, many of which compare favorably with concrete and steel. SOM has a project for a 40 story tower made of wood, unbuilt as of this writing, but not for lack of feasibility.


The show clearly has an axe to grind (so to speak) but makes some really interesting points about the environmental impact of various building materials and the industrial processes that make, mill, mine and harvest them. I especially liked the roll-call of large wooden structures. Unfortunately, in the USA, one of the largest timber-producing nations, the tallest wooden thing is still a giant redwood. In Australia, Scandinavia and beyond, they have some major wooden structures and some are quite marvelous.


In addition to the infographics on the walls, there are four projects by emerging architects featuring some innovative ways to build with wood.


You can’t make this stuff up.


But seriously, gentle reader, you should get over to the Boston Society of Architects space and check this show out. It’s free and open to the public through September 30.

Artificial Scarcity Two Ways

Listening to the radio and drifting in and out of sleep this morning, I thought I heard somebody say that “destroying stockpiles of ivory will dampen demand” for it. Eh?Apparently, Hong Kong is planning to destroy 28 tons of elephant ivory that it has confiscated over the years. Other countries, including the USA, have been doing similar things to reduce demand for ivory. I thought that when you reduced the supply of something, it would tend to increase the price of that thing.

It makes sense to me to destroy weapons or drugs that are seized, those things could be dangerous if somebody got hold of them, and might not be safe enough to general re-use. But with ivory, the damage to the elephant is already done and the criminals have already lost their goods, so what’s the additional benefit of destroying it? Even PETA gives away fur coats to the homeless.

Wouldn’t releasing all this ivory onto the market drop the price of the stuff and make poaching less attractive? Couldn’t the proceeds of those sales also support anti-poaching law enforcement, education and elephant conservation? I understand the desire to make a point and tell the world that it’s not OK to kill endangered elephants for decoration but these high profile destructions just seem like advertisements for ivory – “it’s getting scarcer, so you better buy some now!”

That seemed entirely too loony, so I turned over and went back to sleep for while. The next time I stirred, the story had shifted to the controversy over “micro-apartments” in Boston’s “Innovation District,” formerly known as part of South Boston.

People have got their real estate panties in a knot over whether or not developers should be able to build small apartments, even tiny ones, to chip away at Boston’s 25,000 unit housing shortage. After a great deal of wrangling, it sounds like developers have been approved for 350 such units, and 77 are under construction or already built.

These “innovation units” are apparently super modern and somewhat less than 450 square feet. That doesn’t really seem like some weird new form of housing. I’ve got a 450 square foot condo in Cambridge, and I know there are plenty more. Of course, I’m enjoying the profits from renting out my condo, but if the city would allow the housing it needs to be built, prices for both rentals and sales would most certainly fall. Allowing a few hundred new units of just one kind when thousands of every kind are needed won’t change a thing.

I can’t help thinking that if the tech innovators whom Boston wants to attract were subjected to the same kinds of restrictions that real estate developers are to meet the market need, they’d be trying to develop mobile apps in BASIC.

Maybe allowing a trickle of additional supply to make product more affordable is less crazy than destroying product to reduce demand, but neither path seems quite optimal. Can’t we do better for elephants and Bostonians?

At Gallery Kayafas, it's about time

If you haven’t been lately, it’s about time you visited Gallery Kayafas. It’s about time that you visited because the current shows on view are closing in a bit more than a week. Also, both of the major shows are about time, even more so than the way every photograph is.

In one gallery, there are a number of Daniel Ranali’s Snail Drawings. Ranali gathers small snails on the beach and arranges them in simple patterns, a line, a circle, a spiral, and takes a photo, the first half of a diptych. Then, some time later, he makes the second half by shooting the scene again, revealing the paths the snails had made in the wet sand as they escaped their imposed order and went about their snaily business.

Snail Drawing by Daniel Ranali Walden, 16th Walk, by Stefan Hagen

On the other side of the gallery is work by Stefan Hagen from several of his projects, mostly his “crossings” series. Hagen walks, drives, and boats around significant sites with the camera shutter open for minutes or hours or maybe longer. The results are more coherent than I would have guessed – mistakable at a distance for a conventional landscape – but still completely dream-like, short on specificity and long on feeling.

Also on view, “Ten Small Prints” including work by Berenice Abbott, Anonymous, Harry Callahan, Susan Derges, Harold Edgerton, Peter Kayafas, Helen Levitt, John Pfahl, Aaron Siskind, and Ralph Steiner. I suggest you bundle up and head on over before the shows come down on January 18.

Are farmers afraid of the dark, or is it just Boston?

This evening, I was making my semi-usual Monday after work loop heading to the Boston City Hall Farmers Market to pick up raw material for dinner. As I approached the market I thought, “wow, it’s nice that they have those lights so people can still shop after dark now that they set the clocks back.” As I got closer, I saw that some of the stalls were already empty and the rest were packing up fast, a whole hour before what I thought was closing time.

I was able to buy a stalk of brussels (with a final s) sprouts from a farmer who explained that they changed the hours because “who wants to be here in the dark.” Reds Best was long gone, quashing the evening’s protein plan.  I’m not sure if the farmers were leaving because they didn’t want to stay after dark (I guess the business from after-work shoppers like myself isn’t that rich) or because some official had decreed that you can’t buy fresh produce outdoors after sundown. It was clear that the vendors I saw had plenty of inventory left. It was one of those “not world class city” moments that I keep wishing Boston would outgrow.

Clutching my stalk of brussels sprouts and grumbling to myself on the T, I realized two things: first, you get more room on the T if you’re brandishing a stalk of brussels sprouts, and second, the real problem here is that sham called Daylight Saving (no final s) Time.

Storrowing credit for a neo-neo-neologism

This morning the estimable editors at UniversalHub described a truck as “freshly storrowed,” meaning that it had been driven under a famously (but not famously enough I guess) too-low overpass on Storrow Drive and either gotten stuck or had the top ripped off or both.  Bostonians know this phenomenon all too well, mostly around the traditional moving seasons at the start and end of the academic year.

The earliest (easily found) search result for this use of storrowing is a Tour De France blog post by Dave Chiu from this past summer with a photo of a bus that had tried to squeeze under some signage that was not high enough.  Over at Urban Dictionary, there’s another sense of storrowing that is probably as old as the hills in practice if not in name, and also a portmanteau of steal and borrow.

to borrow something intending to not return it or to borrow something and decide to keep it.

More searching uncovers what might be an even earlier meaning for storrowing that also comes with a handy opposite in astorrowing which apparently is to be avoided if possible.

STORROWING PEATS: Three weeks after cutting the peats are ready to be storrowed – that is placed on end in little wigwam like piles so that the air can circulate freely round them. In a wet year those piles sometimes have to be taken down and built up again, outside in. This is known as “astorrowing” and no one does it if they can help it. After another three weeks the peats should be ready to come home.

What would James J. Storrow think? Maybe his ancestors were in the peat business back in the old country. One hopes his descendants are careful when driving trucks on the family road, though the headline writers would certainly love it if they weren’t.

— Update 10/15 —
Some time after I wrote this, somebody added Storrowed to Urban Dictionary using the same UniversalHub story as the basis. Also, a video.

One fish, two fish, Red's Best, Cod Squad

Occasionally, you can smell the ocean from outside my office near the North End. Maybe it’s just a nearby fountain or open hydrant or the aquarium, but it serves to remind me that Boston has a seafaring heritage. That said, if you’re not careful buying your seafood here, you can get scrod.

We all know that Anthony Bourdain warns against ordering fish on a Monday, but as it turns out, Monday is my go-to double header fish day with two quality establishments: lunch at Captain Marden’s Cod Squad Food Truck followed by a trip to Red’s Best Seafood at the Boston City Hall Farmers Market to pick up something to cook for dinner.

Haddock sandwich from Captain Mardens Cod Squad truck

I’ve praised Captain Marden before, so I’ll be brief today. I was on the fence between fish n chips and the tuna melt. I asked for the chef’s choice and ended up with the haddock sandwich. $11 got me the sandwich, a ton of fries, cole slaw, onion, lettuce and tomato, and a nice touch, a lemon wedge. I was offered cheese, too, but declined. The haddock was delicate and flaky, and was neither overwhelmed nor cheated by the crust. Delightful if a bit much for a lunch, maybe they can offer a “just the sandwich” version sans fries in the future. Cod Squad also offers a range of salads topped with seafood.

Red's Best Local Fish at the City Hall Farmers Market

At Red’s Best, you can get a variety of fresh – not frozen – seafood, all caught by local fisherman and monitored all the way along the chain to make sure that you’re getting the kind of fish you think you’re getting. There’s a good variety of fin fish and shellfish, but if you don’t get here on the early side, things have a way of selling out. I scooped up some scallops ($22/lb) that were super sweet and went very well with the kale from a nearby farm stand. If you’re concerned about the source and sustainability of your seafood, I recommend a Red’s highly. The hardest thing for me is remembering to bring the fish home after stowing it in the fridge at the office for the afternoon.