Qualifying for Boston: Top Ten reasons to take up marathoning
I was on vacation -- not Atkins.
While visiting my parents in Connecticut last week, my husband and I took an overnight trip to Boston with our kids, one of my sisters, and her two children.
We did enough carbo-loading there to prepare for a marathon, though I'm afraid there was no 26.2-miler to justify any of it. Just a few easy jogs around Boston Public Garden, admiring the swan boats and barely working up a sweat.
We did get to burn some of it off hustling down 12 flights of hotel stairs during a late-night fire alarm that, luckily, turned out to be false.
If only we'd walked back up the stairs afterward. We'd intended to do that since every guest in the hotel was lined up for the elevators. But as we headed for the stairs, a hotel staffer took pity and directed us to the service elevator. We got to ride up with the laundry guy and two airline pilots.
The brush with pilots impressed my 5-year-old son, even if the ride did nothing to negate over-consumption of fresh pastas, breads and pastries in Boston's North End, the Italian neighborhood where my grandparents grew up and my great-grandparents settled as immigrants.
I'd eat my way through the North End again -- and start running longer, if need be.
Which brings me to this week's list:
Top Ten reasons to take up marathoning
No. 1. Mike's Pastry cannoli
Creamy, lovely ricotta-filled pastry. I've encountered nothing in Baltimore that comes close.
No. 2. Mike's Pastry cappuccino
The perfect drink with that cannoli, even after my rascally nephew lobbed a spoonful of his lemon ice into my cup.
No. 3. Trattoria Il Panino's lobster ravioli
The fresh pasta, filled with sweet lobster meat, came in a creamy crab sauce. Worth every fat gram.
No. 4. Il Panino's crespelle
My husband ordered these savory crepes, filled with fresh ricotta and spinach. They were almost too good to share, but he gave me a bite.
No. 5. Bread
Before our entrees arrived at Il Panino, we had wonderful Italian bread, the crusty-on-the-outside, chewy-on-the-inside kind with a web of irregular holes, served with fruity green olive oil and a splash of balsamic for dipping. It could have been Wonder Bread for all the kids cared, since it was late and they were starving. But the grown-ups knew what a treat it was.
No. 6. More bread
I bought a crusty loaf to take to my parents' house at my favorite North End grocery, Salumeria Italiana. I wanted to get olive oil, olives and balsamic vinegar, too. But the kids needed to keep moving, so all I got was the bread. Short of cash, I used a credit card to buy a single $5 loaf. There would have been something wrong with that -- charging a loaf of bread -- if the bread hadn't been so good. Back at my parents' house, we turned some of it into bruschetta. The next day, I toasted two slices for an avocado sandwich that I ate on the ride back to Baltimore.
No. 7. Eggplant Parmesan sandwich, Il Panino Express
Moving our four-kid crew around on the T, across streets and along sidewalks sometimes felt like herding cats. Which is why we wound up eating lunch at the informal offshoot of the trattoria where we'd eaten dinner the night before. We might have ventured farther afield, but there it was, right by the cash machine we'd just hit. We had no regrets. My $6-something chicken Parm sub was enormous and delicious. I could only eat half. I gladly carried the rest back to Connecticut, where not a scrap went to waste.
No. 8. Gnocchi al pesto, Il Panino Express
My 7-year-old daughter is a big fan of this dish, which we make at home. It wasn't technically on the menu at this restaurant, but they had gnocchi, they had pesto, and they were willing to put them together for us. The sauce had an intense basil flavor and the little potato dumplings were pleasantly springy.
No. 9. Pizza
I'd heard raves about Galleria Umberto from a co-worker, on a pizza blog, and on a North End sidewalk, where the line spilled out of the no-frills lunch spot not long after noon on a Monday. I can't say the Sicilian-style slices lived up to the hype -- to me, it was average pizza -- but with a big gang to feed, the price was right: $1.75 a slice. Panini were $2 each. And it was fun watching the guys behind the counter work like crazy to keep the orders coming.
No. 10. More pizza
We didn't wait for Boston to start pigging out on Italian food. We hit Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana on the way up from Baltimore. The pie: sweet tomato sauce, fresh mozzarella and on half, for mom and daughter, fresh mushrooms, on a thin crust with just the right mix of char and chew. It covered a huge serving tray that the waitress plunked on the windowsill beside our booth. The restaurant is celebrating its 85th year this year. How could we pass it by?
The Pepe's pie that launched a carb spree. Photo by math-hubby