Tag Archives: dinner

A flight of New England Fancy – An evening in Boston


It’s been a while since I’ve been back to Massachusetts… I think it was for Dillon and Liz’s wedding, wasn’t it? That’s sounding right… though I frankly can’t believe that was only six months ago. These last few months have felt like forever, and it was high time that I got back East. The rock was calling, family and friends beckoned, and I hadn’t seen my Grandma in far, far too long…

Sunday, 24-Apr-2022

Ohh man… Okay so bear with me for a moment or two, because I’m gonna tell you a story.

Years ago, I started college in Boston.

Yup. We’re throwing ALLLLLL the way back to 2005, baby!

Anyways, when I started and moved in, I was fortunate enough to find a pretty solid friend group who I began exploring the city with. One of those evenings we decided to go into the North End, and find ourselves an excellent Italian dinner.

As we were wandering around, we came to a small hole in the wall with an older gentleman sitting out front. We’re talking your perfect stereotype of an older Italian grandpa… small, with a cigar, lounging around with a cigar tray and a glass of some kind of bourbon or wine or I don’t know what. We didn’t know yet that hole-in-the-wall places are almost always the best, so we proceeded to walk right on past… until the gentleman called out.

“There’s no room inside. Sorry, all booked”

We looked in… there were one or two patrons, but it was still early in the evening, and the restaurant was far from full.

“I wish we could seat you, but we can’t. Sorry.”

He looked us over… we were stopped, but half-starting to move on past.

“You know what? I like the look of you all. Give me a minute, I’ll talk to the host and see if we can get you a table.”

We looked at each other. We had no idea what to do… We were all fresh-faced Freshmen, and were barely out of our high school cocoons. He came back out.

“I talked to the host, and convinced him to give you a table. Come in! Come in!

That evening, I found the best Chicken Parmesan in the city of Boston. Some people say that, somewhere in the universe, is an ideal version of every object. A perfect chair, the optimal hair tie, and the perfect climbing shoes. I may not have found that single ideal Chicken Parmesan that night, but I haven’t found one better since.

I’ve been back to that restaurant, Cafe Lucia (or Lucia Risorante, I can never quite remember) quite a few times. Work dinner, friend dinners, dates, all of it. It’s never failed to astound, and I’m terrified of the day that something causes them to close their doors.

Thankfully, this visit to Boston saw them still open, and still just as inviting as that evening so many years ago. Dillon and Liz, Daniel and Erin, Clara and Brian, we all met up and enjoyed their amazing fare. We ate, we drank, and we caught up… for which I’m endlessly thankful.

Any time I get sad or lonely out in Oregon, my mind wanders back to that street in the North End… or more accurately, to the smiling faces of friends that I know are always there for me. Even if it’s something as simple as an evening out in the North End to celebrate the end of an amazing week back on the East Coast, visiting friends and family.

A visit to the Portland Zoo!


Wednesday, 29-Dec-2021

For the second day that my friend Mike was in town, we’d originally planned on heading to the snow – Mt. Hood, specifically, aiming to do some hiking up on the flanks of the mountain.

But… plans change, sometimes – Like I mentioned in a previous post, we were in the middle of a pretty intense cold snap. While we had quite good snow-travel options (a chained-up Mustang and an all-wheel drive Mazda with top of the line snow tires), the actual traction part wasn’t really a concern. The real challenge with snow driving in Oregon is, unfortunately, other drivers.

See… Driving in the snow is easy. If you’ve grown up with it.

I think I’ve mentioned, but most of Oregon doesn’t really get snow, or any seasons aside from “rain” and “not-rain”. So very few people (it seems, at least) are used to driving in the snow.

That means that, when snow does show up in unexpected places, traffic gets bad. Like, “30-min commute turns into 6 hours” level of bad.

Mike and I… we weren’t really feeling a long traffic-filled drive. Not really feeling it at all.

So instead, we went to the Oregon Zoo!

Going to Zoos isn’t really something that I’ve regularly done historically… but in the past few years I’ve been re-introduced to the idea… and honestly, it makes for a really fun day out. The Oregon Zoo especially – I love how well their habitats are made, and how the pathway through the zoo just melds seamlessly between one environment into the next. It’s a really cool experience, and if you haven’t gone then I very much recommend it.

So we walked, chatted some more, and saw lots of animals. It was neat.

Afterward, we got home just in time for a really nice sunset walk, and… this is really starting to sound like a date, isn’t it?

You know what? What can I say – I hadn’t seen Mike in ages, and it’s been nearly as long since I’ve had a really good date to go all out on… so yeah. Then I cooked an awesome dinner.

It wasn’t a date, damnit!

Yeah, maybe it was a little bit of a bro-date. A lot a bit of a bro-date.

It was a really good day, wasn’t it?

A fancy dinner evening


Wednesday, 08-Dec-2021

It’s been a while since I’ve had occasion to really throw down and make a big, multi-course, fancy and fun dinner. Daniel and Erin’s visit had given me some change, but for some reason those hadn’t quite scratched the itch that I was feeling…

My poor neighbors. Subjected to such cruelty. Having to come over and get fed.

I don’t think they minded, so much.

The plan for the evening was a four-course meal. I’d say “nothing fancy”, but that wouldn’t quite be true… I was taking this as a chance to practice, to experiment, and to try a few recipes that I’d been wanting to try out. For quite a while, in one case!

Adding to the challenge was a new dietary restriction – I’ve cooked for vegetarians and for vegans, but never for someone dairy-free… That gave me some interesting leeway, but still put a block on many of my standard cooking practices.

I was aiming to follow the framework of a fancy Italian meal – small courses, planned and timed to flow into each other as best as possible.

Without further Ado – The meal!

Course 1 – A pasta course.

This one was a light starter, but with enough heft that we wouldn’t be distracted by hunger for the rest of the meal. Simple, clean, and pleasant:

Bucatini, tossed in a non-dairy butter sauce mixed with a tiny bit of truffle oil, with soppressata sausage, salt, and pepper added. Garnished with parsley, of course, since I’m not a savage.

Course 2 – A veggie course.

I’ve been wanting to cook this for years, even since trying it while visiting Rome back in 2018. Judaean Artichokes! Trimmed, spread out, and oiled with truffle oil, olive oil, salt, and pepper.

My neighbors were kind enough to bring over an air fryer, so I didn’t have to deep-fry them like the recipe calls for – and I’ll say, they turned out beautiful! There’s far less meat on an artichoke than I remembered, so this one was a good “rest” course, where peeling the artichoke was as much an event as eating it was. It gave us a good chance to chat and relax before the main course.

Course 3 – The main event

This was going to be a challenge.

See, I love cooking steak, and I love making fancy steak. One of my favorite “show off” dishes is a variant of Steak Au Poivre, where I flambe fillet mignon in a brandy sauce. But you see… that works because the brandy flames work with the butter and steak juice, making a glorious base for the heavy cream.

None of which are dairy-free. As a variant, I grabbed non-dairy butter along with oat heavy cream, but this was definitely going to be a challenge.

In the end… the steaks came out well, but the sauce was a bust. I tried my best, I really did, but the non-dairy butter that I got just… didn’t quite work. Somehow it opened the grains in my skillet and caused the brandy to… seep through? Or something? Which meant that, when I lit it up, it didn’t really mix or caramelize at all, and instead just set the whole pan on fire. Literally the whole pan. All sides.

I was able to get the sauce together by using a ton of fake-butter and oil, but when it did come out… It was somehow a chocolate sauce? I don’t know what I did, but I think the sweetness and nuttyness of the oat milk combined in some arcane dark ritual.

End the end, the steak was excellent on its own – especially when paired with the solid full-bodied red wine that I’d picked out.

Course 4 – Dessert

For dessert, we had chocolate cake and vanilla ice cream!

“But Ben, those aren’t dairy-free!”

“You’re right, other Ben! But I MADE THEM DAIRY-FREE!”

The ice cream was easy. I bought non-dairy ice cream. Boom, done.

The cake? Vegan chocolate cake, one-mug, in the microwave. Boom, done and delicious.

The wine pairing? Loganberry aperitif – sweet, sparkling, and a glorious pairing… especially with the tiny bit of cherry juice that I added to the cake batter 😀

I’m quite proud with how everything came out. Definitely a fun evening!

Bibliography: Recipes!

– Bucatini = Don’t need a recipe, just… cook it up?
– Judaean Artichokes = https://www.thespruceeats.com/carciofi-alla-giudia-roman-jewish-artichoke-recipe-2017775
– Steak Au Poivre (WARNING: Graphic language. Sorry. It is what it is.) = https://imgur.com/gallery/rrqSi
– Single-Mug vegan chocolate cake = https://www.noracooks.com/vegan-mug-cake/