Wednesday, November 21, 2012

gratitude: 2012

I wasn't going to blog today. Not going to blog this whole week (you lucky devils, you). Going to sit back. Take a little space. Plan my next move. 

But I realized it's the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving Eve. And we have a tradition here at the Handbag, and as frustrated as I am over the state of all things Handbaggery, it's a tradition that will live on, damnit. 


Let's just get this right out of the way. I'm thankful for being healthy, for being mentally sound, for being fed, clothed, watered, sheltered.

But there's a lot more to life, no?

Like the quiet of the morning before the world wakes. The sun rising on the water, red in the sky, warm coffee in my hands.

Heavy-crusted bread. Eggs with runny yolks. Thick-cut bacon in a cast-iron skillet.  

A roaring fire, a glass of red wine. Tall bookshelves. Bourbon ice cream. Hand-rolled pie dough, bone-rich broth; a steak from the grill, well-seared and tender.

The market in the morning, brimming with baskets of fresh-picked apples, bundles of carrots, pints of potatoes, and bushels of bread. 

The market by the sea, lettered signs beckoning: lobsters, clams, oysters, scallops, perch, cod, haddock, hake, all packed on ice, newly pulled from the water.

Words on the page. Words in the air. Words running, hurtling, racing to pin them down before they drift away. 

Finding the words you want. Finding the words you need.

The right face in the lens. The whir of the shutter. 

Dangling earrings. Fitted dresses. Red pens. Turquoise. Hot apple cider, a mug of mulled wine. Aretha. John, Paul, George and Ringo. Katharine Hepburn. Cary Grant.  Patterned skirts. Hand-written letters. Oatmeal stouts, chocolate porters. Albariño. Tempranillo. A fine fiddle player on the radio. 

The rolling hills, the green-grass fields. Sweet corn, fresh tomatoes. Driving past the fields with the windows down, classic rock on the radio. Painted barns, sturdy wooden fences. Home.

To recipes, to cookbooks, to grammar rules and stylebooks, to you, to me, to our wide world, to raising a glass to what matters.

Oh, and Derrick. 

(your turn.) 

Friday, November 16, 2012

friday photoblog: holiday special, thankful edition

I have a story for you.

It's not an exceptionally good story, mind you. It won't change your life or leave you sobbing. It probably won't even make you smile. But it is a story, and a story I want to tell nonetheless.

This is a story of last Thanksgiving.

Derrick and I have the good fortune of living near not one, but two cliché holiday destinations. Salem, MA puts on a monthlong Halloween extravaganza that celebrates all things Halloween: ghosts, goblins, witches, and our forefathers' belief that a person's innocence could be proven by throwing the accused into an ice-cold river (can't it?).

We've yet to make it out to the annual spooktacular shenanigans that occur at Salem (we hear parking is a BITCH), but last year, we decided enough was enough. We'd lived in Boston for nearly six months. It was time to get out and ENJOY this new area we lived in. And since Thanksgiving was approaching, there was no better place to head than....

I will freely admit it was not the centuries-old history or Thanksgiving traditions that brought us out to Plymouth that weekend. Sure, that was part of why we went, but the real reason is a little more predictable...


In other words: Screw the pilgrims. We journeyed down to Plymouth to get our hands (and stomachs) on the world's largest barbecue sandwich. Guinness World Record officials were going to be on the premise. We were going to make history, y'all. 

Plymouth--what little I saw of Plymouth when I wasn't stuffing my face with clam chowder or pumpkin whoopie pies-- is lovely. White churches with towering steeples. Local restaurants with street-facing windows. American flags wavering from every street corner. All-American, all-New-England, all-people-lived-here-with-cholera-and-scurvy. I felt very patriotic.

We knew Plymouth put on a big show for Thanksgiving. Folks, I didn't watch all those Thanksgiving animated movies or star* in all those pilgrim plays for nothing. I know Plymouth is a BFD in American--and especially Thanksgiving--tradition.

*by star I mean I had one line and wore a pilgrim collar made out of construction paper. I used to have two lines. Then a new girl moved to our school and I had to give up one.  I originally was supposed to say something like, "My name is Elizabeth Pilgrimflower. Our journey was so terrible that half of us died of dysentary or scurvy or whatever hell else old-timey diseases people got in the 17th century. Something exotic. TIMES WERE TERRIBLE! WE ATE RATS! REPENT! REPEEEEEENT!" 

When the new girl came, I lost the second part of my oh-so-poignant line and was strictly in charge of introducing both of us. "Oh, okay," I told my teacher, "I'll just say 'My name is Elizabeth Pilgrimflower, and this is my sister, Belinda." "Belinda can't be your sister," my teacher told us. "Why not?" I asked. "Because Belinda is black," my teacher said.

Clearly, my teacher hadn't thought about the off chance that the Pilgrims came to American to escape religious persecution AND interracial intolerance. 

Also, my teacher was racist.

As much as I hate gigantic displays of holiday revelry (see: New York City on New Years Eve, Boston during the 4th of July, Punxsutawney on Groundhog Day), Plymouth charmed me. The parade was gigantic and ridiculous. There were giant turkeys. There were marching bands. There were pilgrims on cell phones.

But there was no Al Roker. There were no gigantic floating Spongebobs or M&Ms. There were no endless Hanes commericals. There were families clustered on blankets on the sunny hillside, children sitting on the curb, marching bands smartly stepping past. And folks, that's the kind of hometown Americana this bitter cynic can get behind.

Surprisingly, my favorite part of Plymouth wasn't the food festival; rather, I liked just walking around the town that America (by and large) forgot. Something real and true happened here, and these people carry it in their hearts like a weighty secret they've been entrusted to bear:

But I didn't come here to talk about Plymouth. I came to talk about my family.

They are wonderful and they are kind. They are good-souled, hard-working people who taught me everything I know and trust. They have rough palms and even rougher fingertips, the paint in their house is chipping, and they were each raised with their own kind of painful nothing and everything.

My mother raised me on books, with long-simmered chicken broth and homemade noodles. My stepfather raised me on resourcefulness, with a respect for soulful guitar on the radio and the importance of a well-oiled machine. They are both as practical as they are wise, and they are the most good-hearted, honest people you will ever meet. They are the ones you call in the snowstorm; the ones you call when the heat's gone out or a hurricane is hammering down your door or ohmygodit's1AMandthebabystillwon'tsleep; they will talk you down from the ledge and tell you how to jump the car or calm the baby or field dress the deer your car has hit.

And last year, they came to visit me for the first time in Boston.

I was ecstatic. Something had happened in our move, and my family hadn't seen it yet. But here--here among the unpacked boxes, the aging house and the 1950's suburbanites-- I had bloomed. I had blossomed. And I couldn't wait to show it all off. Look, ma, your daughter's not a complete failure. Look, she's stretched her wings. Look at the pictures on the wall. Look at me laughing. Look at me standing knee-deep in the water with a crab in my net. Look at me in New York City. Look at me in Baltimore. Look at me on the beach, in the waves, in the kitchen, sitting on the dock.  

Look, mom. Look what I can do.

And oh, readers, the things we did.

The first day they were up, we sprung a full-scale lobster boil on them. Guess what's in the bag? We grinned. Look, we said to my brother, Look inside. He did. And he looked at is like we were half-awesome and half-murderers, which is accurate. And it was he who dropped his own lobster in the boiling water that day, along with mussels, potatoes, corn, and chicken.

My parents and Derrick and I, we stuffed our faces. And we all sat back, grinning, at the remnants of the feast Derrick and I had laid before them.

Drunken lobster debauchery

It was a milestone. The kids were cooking Thanksgiving for the parents. The kids were capable of cooking Thanksgiving—and oh, what a Thanksgiving it was. There was pie (which almost burned, thanks to our posessed oven that we are JUST NOW getting fixed). There were braised leeks (which came too slightly too sweet). There were mashed potatoes (not as good as my stepfather's, but close), and broccoli rabe (which came out too...meh). There was macaroni and cheese that forgot to make it to the table (we had cooked it the day before and forgotten all about it). There was duck (slightly dry). But none of it mattered. Because we had cooked it ourselves, with our own hands, and our food was delicious, no matter its minor flaws. Because we had made a quiche that morning and it was perfection. Because, with all our flaws, we had still made my parents sit back in their chairs with pleasure after three helpings of our dinner. Because we all chipped in and made it.

And because we had roasted a whole turkey for the first time, and it was goddamn delicious. 

Later that weekend, we took my family out into Boston. I don't like to post pictures of my (technophobic, Facebook-distrusting, not-far-from-Amish) family here, but I couldn't resist a few non-identifying photos, especially ones as charming as this one, where my darling brother looks so much larger in person but still endearingly small in photos:

Waiting for the subway

We decided to do our usual nondescript Nicki and Derrick Do Boston But Don't Show You Anything of Actual Value tour that we give all family members. Which, naturally, started with Boston Common, home of unnaturally fat animals and former home to public executions.

We saw remarkably creepy cherubs:

Come play in our fountain, Nicki....come play....forever...

My brother got to practice his Animal Whisperer Skills on Boston Common's wildlife:

He's looking down at the clementine in his hand, trying to get a segment of fruit to offer to the squirrel. I didn't have the heart to tell him that the squirrel was probably way more interested in leftover pizza crust and candy bars.

We explained the nuances of the two-party political system to my brother (hey, he asked), before recognizing with relief that he cared more about the statues representing the parties than he did the actual parties himself:

We took them to Regina Pizzeria, home of the best pizza IN THE WORLD (or at least the city)...:

...and managed to look drunk/severely handicapped while doing so.

And we took my (Italian) mother to one of the North End's infamous bakeries....

...where she bought a box of Italian cookies for her father, and the wonderfully warm, kind shopkeeper showed my brother how they used to (and still do) wrap pastry boxes for customers:

And sometime, when we were all scattered among the house, with my stepfather and David on the porch with Derrick and my mom and I in the living room in front of the fire, my mother looked at all the photos on the mantle and said to me: I am so proud of you. 

And I knew what she meant. Proud that I had found myself. Proud that I found somewhere I belonged. Proud of me for finding happiness. Proud of me for being myself, for living, for carving out a Nicki-sized spot for myself somewhere in this wide, wide world.

My two dogs (my parents' and my own), together again

And when it was time for them to go, my little dog sat at the door and waited patiently for them to come back.

...and he waited...

...and waited...

...and waited...

even though he had obviously skipped meals

...before finally giving up.

sad face.

 But little dog, I have good news for you: my family is coming up again this year for Thanksgiving. Is it a new tradition? Perhaps. I don't know. I just know I'm thankful--so thankful-- for them, and even more thankful to share Boston (and my kitchen, and my table) with them again.

What are you doing for Thanksgiving, lovelies?

Monday, November 12, 2012


it's nothing, nothing really, just some words on the page, a line in the masthead that no one really sees, right next to the editorial that no one reads—

and yet—

seeing those two little words in print, tucked in a real product, a real thing, the smooth bound pages in your hand; a thing you could pull from the newsstand, carry to the cashier and read on the subway or at the park or at the table in your kitchen; this wild thing that you've read and crafted and written and tamed into 64 pages of words and pictures and food begging to be made—

well, kids, that little name of yours in black and white, that's just about as good as it gets.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Friday, November 2, 2012

friday photoblog: halloween in boston

Let's not talk about Halloween this year, shall we? 

Let's face it: for most of the East Coast, Halloween was a (literal) washout. We got lucky here in Bostonland, but we were so busy stocking up on tequila and freezing copious amounts of ice that there was really no time to buy candy for the neighborhood whippersnappers. Add that to the fact that we typically don't get home on a weeknight until 7:30 p.m. and it became clear: this year, trick-or-treat just wasn't in the cards for us.

Pity, too. Little known fact: Derrick and I LOVE Halloween. Derrick's love of the holiday mainly stems from his burning love of both candy and scaring the bejeezus out of neighborhood children, while mine was long-steeped in a family with more Halloween decorations than Christmas ones. But that's another post for another day, when I'm not so utterly depressed at our lack of Halloweenliness this year.

There were no zombie movies featuring horribly racist black-and-white romps through 1930's Haiti. There were no zombie movies, period. We did halfheartedly squeeze in a few Mystery Science Theatre horror movies a few weeks ago, but when is it not the season for MST3K? It hardly counted.

There was no Halloween-themed food. There was no candy. There were no costumes, no themed cocktails, no parties (hahahaha like I ever go to parties), no trick-or-treaters, no playing of Pandora Halloween stations, no use of the word 'spooktacular.'

I didn't even hear Monster Mash. And I LOVE me some Monster Mash.

It was a tragedy, my friends. 

So this year, I'm pretending it never existed. Halloween took a holiday. It will be back full-force next year. But this year? Nope. Nuh-uh. Never happened.

So let's gallop aboard my time machine (gallop? what is my time machine shaped like, a dude ranch?) and return to a happier time: my first Halloween in Boston, circa 2011.

Beautiful, beautiful zombie geisha

What trick-or-treaters were greeted with last year...sob.

Thursday, November 1, 2012


Note to my dearest darlingest other bloggers: I found out the hard way that Google Reader only holds your posts for up to a month. So I've been having marathon reading sessions that involve me catching up on TWO MONTHS of your wonderful posts and then comment-bombing you for the next hour. Poor Mynx got about 80 of my comments while she was trying to enjoy her breakfast. And Michael got comment-bombed for three days straight. I apologize in advance for all the caps lock comments about to descend on your blog. If your blog hasn't been attacked with a nonstop hail of capital letters and exclamation points that is a Nicki Comment, fear not, YOUR TIME WILL COME. And you will feel so smothered with bloglove you'll wish I'd go back to neglecting you. But that's how this catch-up thing works, baby. So PREPARE TO BE UTTERLY CRUSHED WITH MY LOVE.

Note #2: Thanks so much to Michael for helping me realize that I need to let this blog grow along with me, not stay stagnant with who I was. Thanks so much to Michael for having the COURAGE to trust that her audience will grow with her—and if it doesn't—there'll be a new audience around the corner, one who's ready for what you have to say. We all grow, and we all change, and so will our audience. AND THAT'S OKAY.

Note #3: Thanks to Celia. For so many things, but mainly, just thanks for 'getting' me. 



I'm having a Moment.

As in, "Tacos are having a moment," "Cupcakes are having a moment," "Rebecca Black had a moment and thank GOD that moment is over."

But this, this is a moment. I've spent two shaky, unsteady years trying to Figure It All Out. Figure Out What I Want in Life. And finally, finally I've foun
d something I want.

I want to keep working where I'm working, keep doing what I'm doing. I'm deliriously happy. I feel right. I feel I've finally landed someplace where I belong.

Yeah. I know how damn cheesy that sounds. But when you've done so many things that just aren't quite right–something you force yourself into, cram yourself in a box and hope no one notices your elbows stick out or your dress is too tight or that you're wearing different-colored shoes or that your shirt is inside out or that you ONLY SHAVED ONE LEG IN THE SHOWER THIS MORNING (all of which I've actually done, by the way)—

to have something that fits you like it was made for you is so wonderfully, blissfully, gorgeously perfect.

But before I get too Susie Sunshine on you, let's remember that it's not permanent. I'm just a lowly freelancer (which, let's face it, is really just a wonderfully artsy way of saying "temp."). But instead of dwelling on the fact that This Too Shall Pass, I'm going to focus on my Moment.


I will never be a City Girl. Mostly because I refer to it as City Girl in my head, with capital letters. I come from rural—We-Don't-Even-Have-a-Trash-Service rural— Pennsylvania. I am so deeply embedded in farm country that I know I'll never dig my way out. It left a mark on me deep as the river runs. And the only times I feel like I'm home—really at home—is driving through the fields, sitting with my feet dangling in the creek or toes buried in the green, green grass. Anywhere else, I'm a tourist.

So every time I board the subway, cross the street, enter a café, walk the sidewalk, I'm a visitor, a stranger, an alien marveling at new life. A running narrative runs through my head: Look! Look at me commuting! I'm commuting! Look, Mom! Look at me reading my newspaper on the subway! I'm a well-informed city dweller who's using environmentally-friendly transportation!

Look! Look at me entering the coffeeshop before work! I have a coffeeshop near my work! AND IT'S NOT A DUNKIN' DONUTS! OR a Starbucks! Look at me talking with the cashier! Look at me complimenting her Muppets shirt! Look at me not being unbearingly, embarrassingly awkward!

Look at me with my overpriced coffee, entering my workplace! Look at my desk! I have a desk in the city! I can hear the subway outside and someone honking! Whoa, now there are two people—three people—oh for chrissakes, there are four people honking right outside my window— SHUTTHEF***UP, PEOPLE OUTSIDE MY WINDOW!

Look at me, getting annoyed at bad drivers in the city!

Look at the crack addict sitting next to me on the subway! Look at me not freaking out about the crack addict sitting next to me on the subway! Look, ma! He's a human too! We're coexisting! He smells awful! I can smell him, Mom! I'm not freaking out even though I can smell him!


So this Moment—this wonderful, wonderful Moment of citydwelling and cityliving—is just about as exciting as a city dweller escaping to the country and seeing a deer or a rabbit or whatever the hell else you city kids think is novel about the country. (If I see a rabbit or a deer, I'm more apt to want to skin it and eat it, not photograph it or say Ohhh, honey, look at Bambi!)

I bought some new clothes. It's part of my Moment. If I'm going to work in a office, I might as well look the part. I'm wearing a new dress right now. It has a sheer black mock Peter Pan collar. I am wearing a goddamn Peter Pan collar. I look like Rachel Berry stepped off the screen of Glee and had a torrid  affair with a lesbian wearing combat boots. It's part of my Moment.

My tights are from H&M. I went to the store after work. I actually entered a chain, reasonably hip store by choice. No one forced me. I did not immediately leave. I was not startled by the loud music or aggressively dressed mannequins. Not being intimidated by fashionably dressed inanimate objects is part of my Moment.

My tights were $1. I did not know this until I braved the lines to get to the cashier wearing about 80,000 silver bracelets on her arm. Her earrings were bigger than my head. "These are on sale. One dollar. You luckyyyyyy," she said. I beamed at her. "Thank you! I am! I AM luckyyyyyyy!"

And readers, I feel luckyyyyyyyy. Lucky to be working someplace I love (for no matter how long), lucky to live in a city that constantly delights and confounds me, lucky to feel like a Real Person Doing Real Things With Her Life, lucky to have a Chinatown and a Book Festival and a Cape Cod and even a godforsaken Duck Tour, yes, lucky, lucky to have a man that I love, lucky that his hands can stitch wounds and fillet fish, lucky to have two dogs, a sunny kitchen, a wide open yard; lucky to have, lucky to dream, lucky to want, lucky to be.