American Icons: The Doughnut

 

Dear America,

you and I. And Homer Simpson. We share one big passion.

It’s round, the most delicious thing EVER and well, the title already gave it away: It’s the doughnut.

Contrary to Zurich where it was practically impossible to get ahold of good artisanal doughnuts (and no, Dunkin Donuts that just recently opened up DOES NOT count), I’m in Doughnut heaven right now. This seems to be THE single thing EVERYONE eats, even fancy restaurants will put it up as a dessert item. I hope you get the point that doughnuts ARE IMPORTANT here (gonna stop with the capital letters in bold now, promise.)

All that interesting stuff about doughnuts (legends incl.)

To not let you go on with your day without knowing a bit more about the background story of this country’s most delicious pastry, find a few facts below.
Also, who knows, you might want to have input for a bit of small talk for upcoming holiday parties, right? A question to get conversations started could be: Why is there a hole in the doughnut? Intriguing, I know. The answer follows shortly.

Apparently, the credit for inventing doughnuts goes to Europe. More specifically to the Netherlands, where oliekoecken (oil cakes or fried cakes) were first made. Dutch pilgrims came to the US and introduced this delicious thing.

The Doughnut Dilemma
However, there was one little problem.  When the olykoeks were pulled from the frying kettle, the centers were rarely fully cooked. One temporary answer to that was to insert a filling that only needed to be warmed.

cropped-cropped-blackbird-pbj-1

Legend has it that a woman in New England back in the 1840s called Elizabeth Gregory was known to make great olykoeks. Part of her secret was to fill the center with nuts. She also had a special name for her creation — dough-nuts. This is an AHA moment, am I right?

Her son was a captain (Captain Hanson), so the good mother she was, she sent him a lot of doughnuts with the recipe of it to make more. This is where the legend gets a bit confusing. In one variation, Captain Hanson’s ship hits a storm and he finds himself having problems steering and holding his doughnut at the same time (on a side note: seems not to be best idea in the first place, but hey, he’s the captain, not me.) He went on to impale the doughnut on one of the spokes on the steering wheel to keep his hands free (what a brilliant solution). This again drove a hole through the raw center of the doughnut, which he liked a lot. Ever since, the legend says, he ordered his cook to prepare all doughnuts with holes in the center.

Another variation of the legend is far less dramatic. The Captain didn’t like the nuts that were in his mother’s recipe and requested that the ship’s cook removed them of the doughnuts centers. Also, with the removed center, the doughnuts cooked more evenly.

You weren’t expecting such a dramatic captains story? Oh the surprises doughnuts bring. 
I could go on and on about the history of the doughnut. Did you know that in the two World Wars doughnuts also played a role? And don’t get me started on Dunkin Donuts. It has been founded in Massachusetts. Quite an interesting story.

After all the talking, I need to go and buy me some doughnuts.

Are you a Swiss person and craving doughnuts right now? I am afraid, you might have to go to Dunkin Donuts. But don’t fear. The ever so great magazine Lucky Peach has made a very helpful chart showing you what to get at DD, if you have to go. Enjoy! powerranking_dd

© Union Square Donuts, BLACKBIRD Doughnuts

Why I Love Volunteering

Quickly after arriving here one of the first things I did was sign up with Boston Cares (see here for more info). They are the largest volunteer agency in New England and they find non-profit organizations in the Boston area that can use the help of volunteers. They put all the opportunities together on their platform where you can sign up for them. Ever since I have been volunteering every week, on average 3-4 times.

I’ve prepared and served meals at the Boston Living Center, the Women’s Lunch Place, I’ve assembled food donations at the American Red Cross, I’ve helped out in food pantries, where food is handed out twice a week to folks in the neighborhood of the East End House in Cambridge,  I’ve planted bulbs on the Rose Kennedy Greenway. Those are just a few examples of volunteering jobs I have been doing and this month I’ll be doing a couple of new ones (select books for prisoners, work at different food pantries and serve at a veteran’s center).

Why I love volunteering

Volunteering is something I have always wanted to do. Back in Switzerland, I had inquired a few times with the Red Cross and Caritas on how I could get involved, yet I never followed through with it. That was mainly due to my work schedule that didn’t allow for leaving early during the week or taking time off to do it. Coming here was the best opportunity to really get the volunteering thing going. And I couldn’t be happier. There are a number of reasons why:

#1 Getting involved

I become involved with the community, the city and its people, which gives me a sense of belonging and being connected with the place I now live in.

#2 Gaining new experiences

I have learned so much during those last months. Seeing how a kitchen that produces food for larger groups of people really works was a new experience for me. Learning how to properly cut up vegetables, too (I mean, I know how to handle a knife now. Thanks to Raffael at the Boston Living Center).

I’ve learned a lot about plants and how a city park is maintained when working on the Rose Kennedy Greenway. I’ve learned how to properly plant bulbs (never done that before, now I know) and not to freak out too much every time I see a big ol’ worm when digging up the holes for the bulbs.

#3 Creating connections 

I also get to know a ton of new people every time I volunteer. Be it on the volunteer side or on the side of people we serve. I’ve experienced heart-warming encounters with people that I will never forget.

Once, I got to meet an elderly woman from Haiti with a beautifully friendly face. In the short interaction I had with her when serving her food, I noticed her French accent and talked to her in French. Her face instantly lit up and she had a lot of questions. Why do you speak French? Ah, Switzerland, I have relatives there. I am so happy to talk French to someone. No one does speak it around here. She asked if I had children, a husband. And even though she never had seen Philipp before she told me to tell him she said hello. It seemed very important to her that I’d do that. She also told me to come back next week on the same day so we could chat again. This very simple interaction made my day. I was happy to talk to her. She was happy to talk to me. 

There really have been countless other experiences like a man that I got to know at the Living Center that is  just such a talented piano player. One day I asked him while he came to get the food in the line if he would play again today (there’s a piano in the canteen). He nodded yes, smiling happily. I noticed how proud he was and it made me even more happy.

#4 Learning about people and about myself 

I’ve learned about the homelessness system in Boston, about how families struggle in the area, about what is important in your diet when you are affected by HIV/Aids.

Those are issues I never was confronted with in Switzerland. I am aware that there are also people in need in Switzerland, still it hits me even more here. I see people every week that are struggling to get through the week.

And this is when I realize how privileged I am. I don’t have to think about what I buy in the supermarket, how long it is going to last me. I don’t have an illness that I have to cope with. I have a home. I have a family and friends that care for me.

I happen to be lucky.

The interaction with the people I meet every week reminds me of how grateful I have to be and how I want to help them even more. Even if it’s just a very little help I can offer.

#5 Giving back and helping others 

This one is closely related to the last point: We are pretty lucky, right? That is why I feel obliged to give back. I want to help if I can. As simple as that.

I hope this wasn’t too long of a post, I hope it might inspire you to look into ways how you could contribute to your community in a positive way! Have a good day!

Boston’s Best Restaurants

Friends,

I love food and I love discovering new places. And once you found one you like, you should share it. That’s the right thing to do, isn’ it? If you’re not into restaurants, you’ll find my posts on my favorite Boston bakeries here and on my favorite Boston cafés here in case you missed them). So here comes my little list of spots that I love. And of course this is only a very small selection of personal favorites and never ever reflects all of the amazing places there are in Boston. Obviously.

I still want to go to so MANY restaurants (Oleana, Giulia, Eat by Chloe, … talking about you here). Also, if you have any other favorite places do let us know in the comments below.

#1 Alden & Harlow

alden and harlow

Oh, the many many MANY times I went to Alden & Harlow. It was a LOT of times. When we still lived in Cambridge this spot on Brattle Street was a constant when friends and family would come over to stay with us. Birthday and Easter celebrations were had there and it’s a place that just won’t disappoint. It’s definitely also a place that will spark discussions about the food and will make you discover new flavors and combinations that are just great. Can you tell I like this place?

What they serve: Modern American cuisine, farm-to-table, great food meant to be shared.

#2 Coppa

This is one of my latest discoveries in the ever so beautiful South End. And to be honest I was a bit skeptical at first, as I am with lots of Italian restaurants here. But eating at Coppa definitely made me change my mind. This is a great spot, founded by local gastronomical heroes Ken Oringer & Jamie Bissonnette with a neighborhoody feel to it. Take a group of friends for a nice meal, you can share all the plates. The pasta is amazing as are the other dishes on the menu. Bonus: The music is great fun!

What they serve: Amazing Italian food, meant to be shared. WOW!

#3 Myers+Chang

We’ve covered Italian and Modern American cuisine up until now, time to open up the stage for some Asian food. I am by no means an expert on the matter but I know that the food at Myers+Chang (another gastronomical power couple) is just delicious. The interiors are pretty cool, too and staff is really friendly!

What’s really cute is that they offer Cheap Date Nights every Monday + Tuesday from 5pm to 10pm. Each menu ($45 each) is designed to be a full dinner for two, but larger groups are also encouraged to order one or more date to share. Let us know how it was!

What they serve: An indie diner setting offering a mix of Chinese, Taiwanese, Thai, and Vietnamese specialties.

#4 Little Donkey

Little Donkey near Central Square is just all over the place. What I mean by saying that? The latest collaboration of Oringer & Bissonnette (see section about Coppa above) will take you on a trip around the world with a menu full of global small plates that are meant to be shared. Great place, great cocktails. A little dark in terms of lighting. But heyo that won’t stop us, right?

What they serve: International sharing plates. Go for the Charred Avocado, best thing E-V-E-R.

#5 Mamaleh’s Delicatessen

The moment you enter this space your mood will brighten up. I don’t know what they do or how they do it. But. It. Works. It’s a big and generous space near Kendall Square where you’ll find all the bagels, Rachels, Reubens, potato knishes, pastrami sandwiches your Jewish foodie heart desires. A great place for any meal of the day all week through from Monday to Sunday.

What they serve: Jewish delicatessen.

#6 Dig Inn

So this is NOT your regular salad place. It is much more. It is muuuuch better. There are three locations in Boston (Back Bay, Prudential Center and Downtown Crossing). If you ever find yourself in the area and want to go for a healthy yet filling option, this is the place! Bonus: They buy food from local farms, they change up their menu depending on the seasons and also offer lots of veggie options. Also, their interiors are just #goals.

What they serve: Hearty salads!

#7 Juliet

Voted one of America’s best new restaurants in 2016 by bon appetit Magazine, this beautiful space in Somerville near Union Square is just a great little spot for any time of day. Wether you’re looking for a small breakfast, a brunch at the weekend, a lunch or even a very unique dining experience, it’s the place to go.

What they serve: Great food! (very original I know).

#8 Loyal Nine

I’ll be honest here. I’ve been to Loyal Nine’s Café several times and went for brunch and it always was amazing. However, out of the two times I went there for dinner, while one visit was great (great cocktails and beers selection), the second visit turned out to be a little disappointing. But hey, go there for great breakfast and café food and the best brunch, it won’t disappoint. The concept is interesting and it’s probably food you’ve never eaten that way before. Intrigued? Plus: It’s a beautiful space with beautiful tableware (seriously!) and super friendly staff.

What they serve: Seasonal coastal New England fare, influenced by the early settlers, meant to be shared.

Getting Into The Hygge Spirit

Friends,

you probably might not want to hear yet another person talk about the whole Hygge thing.

In case you don’t know what Hygge is, where have you been? The very short answer is: It’s the Danish concept and obsession with getting cozy (if you’d like to know more, read this article here). It can take on many different facets and mean different things to everyone but I thought it might be nice to share some of the things that have been getting me in the Hygge spirit, now that days have been getting colder and darker.

#1 Roasting chestnuts

The sweet an comforting scent of roasted chestnuts must just get a super high score on the Hygge scale, don’t you think? I’ve never roasted chestnuts at home and thought why not try it this autumn. It is much easier than I thought, so why not try it this weekend? See the recipe I used here.

#2 Glazing Walnuts

Can you sense a theme here? I discovered the easiest ever recipe for glazed walnuts a few days ago and OMG this might have been one of the most delicious things I’ve ever eaten. Try it!

Bonus: It fills the house with a great autumny smell and makes for a great treat or snack. You’ll only need walnuts and maple syrup and a bit of salt. Just preheat a dry skillet over a medium-high heat. Add the walnuts, maple syrup and salt. Cook, stirring frequently, until syrup is caramelized and nuts are toasted, about 3 minutes. Let cool. ENJOY!

#3 Hot Beverages

Hand me over a hot apple cider, a tasty coffee or a fragrant cup of Earl Grey and I’ll be happy instantly. Do you know the feeling of coming home after a few hours spent outside in the cold and just wanting to get cozy on your sofa with said hot drink? Best feeling, once you hold that warm cup in your hand. What are your favorite hot drinks?

tea

Bonus if you drink your favorite drink out of a beautiful mug. Yes.

#4 Candles

Probably one of the most hygge things ever are candles. They will just instantly make you feel homey and good. My favorite candles are the ones by Neom Organics, do you know them? Do you have any other favorite candles you could recommend?

#5 Meeting Friends in Cafés

Spending time with friends and celebrating “Togetherness” as they would call it in the Hygge Manifesto is also very high up on my list of fall essentials. There’s just nothing better than grabbing a good friend, going to one of your favorite cafés and indulging in that walnut coffee cake you’ve been eyeing up on for a couple of minutes, while talking with your friend. Best!

#6 Raiding The Library

Living a couple minutes away from the largest public library of the US is definitely veeeeery tempting. To all my local friends: Go and get yourself a library card (see more info here). It’s just the best thing to get comfy on the couch with either some roasted chestnuts or maple glazed walnuts, a hot beverage, my candles and a good book (currently reading Maya Angelou’s ‘Why The Caged Bird Sings’). Maximum level of Hygge achieved I think.

Let me know what your ideas and tips are for getting cozy in autumn?

American Icons: Dunkin Donuts

So. Massachusetts is known for the Red Sox, the Patriots, notoriously bad (LIKE REALLY bad) drivers, their infamous Boston accents and last but not least Dunkin’ Donuts.

It was time we had a little chat about Dunkin’ Donuts. It’s such an iconic brand from New England. America runs on Dunkin’ also seems to be a pretty accurate statement when you consider there are more than 10,000 Dunkin’ Donuts locations in the U.S. and 60 percent of their annual revenue comes from coffee. Also, can we just take a moment to look at this interesting logo?

Dunkin’ Donuts History in a Nutshell

It all began in 1948 with a donut and coffee restaurant in Quincy, MA called “Open Kettle.” Founder William Rosenberg served donuts for five cents and premium cups of coffee for ten cents. The place was renamed “Dunkin’ Donuts” in 1950.

Since 1950, the number of Dunkin’ Donuts restaurants has increased to more than 12,000 worldwide, with locations in 45 countries making it one of the biggest fast food giants. The company serves approximately 1.9 billion cups of hot and iced coffee every year. Over the long-term, the company plans to more than double its U.S. presence, which will put the total number of restaurants above 17,000.

A Few Things I’m Sure You Didn’t Know About Dunkin’

#1 The company’s executive chef, Stan Frankenthaler, is a three-time James Beard Award nominee (in other words, a real food professional)

#2 Dunkin’ Donuts is all the rage in Korea

The chain’s largest international market is the Korean one with nearly 1,000  stores. Unlike in the US, patrons are allowed to pick donuts themselves off shelves, cups are paper (not Styrofoam), and the most popular drink is a shot of espresso and hot water (called an Americano).

#3 The sizing is pretty unique (aka big)

Compared to their competitors Dunkin’ has pretty unique cup sizing. Their “Medium” is a whopping 24 ounces while their “Small” is 16 ounces. Starbucks’ equivalent of a medium, “Grande,” is 16 ounces and its small (“Tall”) is the standard 8 ounces. Considering that Dunkin’ is still cheaper I know why lots of people choose to go there.

# 4 New York is obsessed with Dunkin’s

The chain has more locations in New York’s five boroughs than Starbucks, McDonald’s, and Papa John’s combined. That’s around 600 stores in NYC alone! Crazy, right?

What to get at Dunkin’ Donuts

Should I add if it’s your only option? Ok that’d be mean but being honest with you, despite walking by a million Dunkin’s every day I might only have stepped a foot into a store one or two times. Still, I’ll go into one this week and will let you know. You know how I feel about doughnuts, so I just might have to give them or their munchkins (mini doughballs) a try. Let me know if you have any recommendations of things you really like at Dunkin’s?

Box of donuts

Have a great day!

On Living In Halloween Central

Hi friends,

it’s going to be Halloween next week and let me tell you one thing:

People here LOVE Halloween.

Tell me something new Sandra you’re thinking. I know. Still, we have to talk about it, since it’s my first time experiencing the whole thing in the US. You can book graveyard ghost tours, pirate harbor cruises or go to Halloween pub crawls. Everyone loves to decorate their houses with weird decorations (I saw tombstones people and dog skeletons wearing sports tricots?!) and spiders and I don’t know…is it just the skeptical European in me that doesn’t really get all the hype around the witches, vampires, pumpkins and weird candy stuff related to Halloween?

Still, I volunteered at the Pumpkin Float at the Boston Common last week and went to a Halloween party (one of the many many this weekend). I’ll admit it, I love seeing all the pumpkins on display out in the streets and I get the fun part about it. Which other holiday allows you to dress up as Princess Leia, Eleven from Stranger Things (whoa, seen the new season?), your favorite M&M, as a mermaid or even your favorite action hero or animal?  I see it, I appreciate the creativity in it. But other than that, Halloween doesn’t really appeal to me (other than maybe the fancy limited candy editions in stores, ha).

Anyhow, as I live in a neighborhood that is famous for its decorations I thought I’d take you along for a little stroll. Apparently, it gets super crowded on October 31st, as everyone comes to see the decorations.

What do you think about Halloween? Do you love it? Let me know in the comments below. If you are celebrating, have a happy Halloween everyone!

Big Sur And Big Seals

Friends,

how are you doing today? I’m coming to you with a roadtrip report today, this time covering beautiful Big Sur. It’s really a special scenery that I enjoyed very much.

What I found even more amazing were the wild seals just lying in the sand. There were SO SO MANY of them. Loved them! Don’t they look like they’re having the time of their lives? Just chilling on the beach. All day. Every day. 

Boston’s Best Bakeries

Friends,

If you know anything about me it’s that I LOVE bread and pastries. Like REALLY. So if I find a place I like I’ll be sure to let everyone know around me. Without further ado, here comes a list of my favorite bakeries in Boston and around.

#1 Sofra Bakery

Don’t miss this one! This place is absolutely worth the trip out of town to Cambridge/Watertown. They have excellent coffee, creative drinks (try the orange blossom lemonade, absolutely stunning), baked goods, and food (all with that delicious Middle Eastern flare). It can get crowded during peak hours as the place isn’t huge, there’s a nice outdoor seating space though, weather permitting. You can also combine a visit to Sofra with a walk around the beautiful Mount Auburn Cemetery.

Photos: Sofra Bakery

#2 Tatte Bakery

This is really boring, I apologize but how could I make a favorite bakeries post without including Tatte? Still just a classic and always a great option to go for, you can’t go wrong with Tatte.

Photos: Tatte Bakery

#3 Clear Flour Bakery

This mini mini tiny tiny bakery tucked away in a sidestreet in Brookline claims to make European bread and pastries. Being the critical European you are you go in with a bit of a skeptical attitude. But you know what? Clear Flour really does make great bread, baguettes, ficelles, croissants and pastries. You got my European stamp of approval. Go folks!

#4 Flour Bakery

Founded by local gastro superstar and Harvard ’91 graduate Joanne Chang this bakery is an option like Tatte where you simply can’t go wrong. Also a great option if you’re out and about with a group of friends as it offers a lot of different options like the best sandwiches I’ve had in town, salads, sweets and coffee.

#5 Hi-Rise Bread Company

We used to live right across a Hi-Rise Bread Company café and it just really is a great neighborhood coffee shop with irresistible pastries, great bread and creative sandwiches. There’s no wifi, which is either a pro or a con depending on what you’re there for but other than that it’s a great quality breads and overall just a nice place for a down to earth breakfast or brunch outing.

#6 Iggy’s Bread

Another amazing local Cambridge hero is Iggy’s Bread. I first got to know about Iggy’s Bread as I was volunteering at a Food Shelter where they always donated fresh bread.  I always ended up volunteering to cut up the bread as it just smelled and looked SO delicious (#truestory). I was curious to find out more and went to their store close to Fresh Pond. It is a great spot for any bread lover! Let me know what you thought!

What are your favorite bakeries in town?

Turning Into a Stunt Woman For Apple Picking

Friends,

what are your favorite fall traditions? I’m currently experiencing my first American fall and have quickly learned that at least here in New England going apple picking is a MUST and has to be done.

Otherwise you’re not doing fall the right way.

Last weekend we decided to rent a car and headed out to the countryside. We went to Connor’s Farm (find more info about it here), which has been around since 1904. It’s basically a farm version of Disneyland, where kids (and adults alike) can indulge in playing all types of games, stroking baby animals, picking apples, shooting apples at targets (yes, that was a thing), eating lots of hot apple cider donuts and finding your way out of a corn maze (and getting lost lots of times on the way….and kind of getting scared that you’ll never get out AND thinking how all those parents let their kids go in on their own). It’s a pretty fun activity, I have to say.

Also, picking apples at the end of the season will have you pull off dangerous stunts (you didn’t know you were capable of) in order to get those last apples hanging (usually on top of the tree…of course). But hey, you have to work to get those apples.

Now we’re stuck with a mountain of delicious apples and I am researching all types of apple related recipes. If you have one you like, be sure to share it!

Have a great day!

 

Go Crimson! Attending a Harvard Basketball Game

Americans, you definitely know how to put on a show.

We went to see two basketball games over the last 7 days. One at TD Garden (Boston Celtics against the Milwaukee Buicks) and the other one was the Crimson Madness at the newly renovated Lavietes Pavilion. After seeing two baseball games in Fenway Park and a NBA and a College Basketball game it is pretty clear to me (Red Sox fans close your eyes or stop reading) that basketball is just SO SO MUCH more interesting and fun to watch. If you want to know more about our basketball adventures you may read on.

What is Crimson Madness you ask? I didn’t know either, so let’s get that out of the way first. Crimson Madness officially kicks off the 2017-18 Harvard Men’s Basketball season.

And, let me tell you, it was a very entertaining evening.

As images always do a better job at conveying a feeling or atmosphere I’ve included the official little recap that the HarvardAthletics account posted on Youtube a couple of days ago.

So here’s what’s happened as advertised before the game:

  • Special welcome from Coach Tommy Amaker
  • Pregame dunk contest
  • Three-point shootout
  • Intra-squad scrimmage
  • FREE giveaways
  • FREE team photos and rosters
  • Post-game autograph session

It was really impressive seeing how professional the set-up with all the analysts, team assistants, journalists, screens, cheerleaders, dance teams, athletes and trainers looked. I almost don’t wanna say it but seeing the whole thing made me realize that many European professional teams would have a hard time competing with that. Ok that might be a bit exaggerated but still, you get the gist. Harvard Basketball have their s*** together.

Overall, it was an interesting American experience, with the national anthem playing at the beginning, an inspirational address by coach Amaker, new and current players were introduced as if they were super rockstars entering the arena, free shirts were thrown into the audience, cheerleaders and dance teams presented their choreographies, food and snacks and you get the picture. After a short intra-squad game people would even go down to see the players and ask for their autographs.

If any of you are local readers, check out Harvard Athletics schedule here, it’s worth taking your friends and family out to a game as it was great fun!

When Science Meets Cooking

Hi friends,

if this post can do anything, I hope that it’ll make you curious to learn about new things or to at least consider your next cooking session a real science project. Because you know what? Cooking is science (not only of course but you’ll know better what I mean in a second)!

Harvard Science and Cooking Lecture – What it is

What made me think about food and cooking that way? It most definitely was attending the Harvard Science and Cooking Public Lecture. It’s a public and free lecture series organized by the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences at Harvard and it pairs Harvard professors with celebrated food experts and renowned chefs to showcase the science behind different culinary techniques. Cool, right?

It’s already in its seventh year and you’re able to find some old and new footage of recorded lectures online over at the Harvard YouTube channel. If a rainy day comes around again and you are somewhat interested in food and/or science, this is be a fantastic way to spend your time. Let me know what you thought! So if you aren’t a local (full schedule of upcoming lectures and guest to be found here), check out some of the videos below and on YouTube.

The last lecture I attended was by the great local superstar and Harvard graduate Joanne Chang and it was all about the science of sugar. While I wasn’t able to find the video about the talk I attended I managed to find the video of the lecture she did back in 2015. It’s just really cool to learn about sugar in such a new and unexpected way. Have a watch!

Take a course on EDX or just watch them online

Another great way to stay in the know if you’re even more curious is to enroll for a free and self-paced course over at EDX, check here for more information.

Some other interesting talks so far were about the art of fermentation and the science of risotto. Here come the videos, have a great week everyone!