Outside the Box

There are so many benefits to living in a city. Public transportation (ehhh…), shops, internship/job opportunities, and FESTIVALS.

I know this seems random, but seriously–one of the perks of city living is simply the amount of random festivals that take place. Free Shakespeare performances in The Common? Sure, why not? Free Selena Gomez concert at Government Center? Well okay then.

There are so many that I feel like most of the time I don’t even know about them. Or I find out after the fact on Boston.com. But lucky for me, there was one this weekend that I thankfully did not miss out on. Earlier in the week, my friend Nikki sent me a link to this event called “Outside the Box” that would be taking place over the weekend–perfect timing especially considering my sister was in town visiting. It consisted of 9 days of free music and performing arts.

Live music while we dined.

Live music while we dined.

One portion of the event (catch the food pun?), though, was specifically targeted toward the foodies out there. Stationed in Government Center plaza, the Fork Lift Food Festival (“a festival within a festival”) consisted of live music, cooking demos by local and celebrity chefs, and dozens of tents with gourmet single-portion tastings.

Celeb chef Todd English casually setting up his demo 10 ft away from us.

Celeb chef Todd English casually setting up his demo 10 ft away.

It worked like a fair: you purchase a number of tickets and different items at different tents cost you varying quantities of tickets. We decided to be strategic in our plan. Because food is serious business to us (amiright Nikki/Corinne?!). We first walked around to see what each chef was offering, taking copious mental notes for our upcoming go-round.

Once we’d walked around in a full circle, it was time to buy our tickets. It was $1 per ticket which kept things simple. We decided $15 each would hopefully be enough to allow us to try everything we really wanted to, and we could always go back and buy more later if we so chose. And then we were off on our second round, this time actually ordering the small plates that had looked so good a half hour before.

Nikki and Corinne toughing out the heat for the sake of good eats.

Nikki and Corinne being troopers through the insane heat, all for the sake of some good eats. My kind of people.

The portions were mostly sample size, costing between 1-4 tickets. I really appreciated how local and seasonal the dishes seemed–many including lobster and other New England-y things. Also, considering it was well in the 90s outside, I was grateful for the lighter dishes especially.

Needless to say, between the three of us, we tried a lot of awesome food. Though portions were tiny, because the food was clearly high quality, we all felt the $15 was well worth it. Also a plus, for some reason it wasn’t crowded (probably due to the heat) so there were no waits whatsoever. I’m just upset I missed out on seeing some of the famous chefs’ cooking demos and book signings. But one could only stand that heat for so long…

Now to the fun part, the food…

1. Legal Seafood: New England clam chowder

Nikki proving that it is, in fact, never too hot for clam chowdah when you live in Boston.

Nikki proving that it is, in fact, never too hot for clam chowdah when you live in Boston.

2. Carly Cakes: Lemon raspberry mini cupcake

Corinne's excellent dessert choice.

Corinne’s excellent dessert choice.

3. Salvatore’s: Arancini caprese strollers

Arancini are simply fried risotto balls. Cheesy, salty, warm, and with a perfectly fried and crispy coating. Props to Corinne for finding the best ‘bang for your buck’ item offered–this portion was significantly larger than all the others.

Arancini. Corinne's a happy camper.

Arancini. Corinne’s a happy camper.

4. Barrio Cantina: Spicy chicken tacos

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5. Batch ice cream truck: salted caramel & cinnamon ice cream

The perfect way to try to cool down.IMG_9053

6. Tresca: Heirloom tomato and watermelon gazpacho

Gazpacho, one of my favorite summertime dishes, was the perfect light, refreshing, cool dish to sample. The addition of watermelon was a unique touch. Also, as a bonus, they gave anyone who came over for a taste a gift bag containing a $20 gift card. Sooo who wants to dine with me in the North End…?

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7. Bokx109: Pear and mascarpone sacchetti

Although the portion was tiny (an amuse bouche, if you will), this pasta dish was very well done. The baby fork may have been a highlight, as well. Sacchetti is simply a tortellini-like pasta meant for stuffing. Mascarpone is a type of spreadable Italian cheese. You may recognize it as the cheese typically used in making tiramisu.

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8. Artisan Bistro: Lobster sausage with johnnycake, brown butter, and corn

Never before had I had lobster in the form of sausage! Luckily, the chef hadn’t ground it and there were still decently sized chunks of lobster (ground seafood seems a bit strange to me) held together by some mixture of binding agents. It paired beautifully with the savory pancake and made for the perfectly balanced amuse bouche.

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9. Kowloon: saugus wings

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I’m not much of a wings person but Nikki seemed pleased. Also, decent portion size was appreciated.

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10. Society on High Les Zygomates Sorriso: Lobster martini with avocado puree and plantain chips & fig tart

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11. Chart House: Crab crake with remoulade & avocado, crab, and mango stack

Corinne went against our rule and ordered crab outside of Maryland, but it was actually very decent (despite the fact that it’s in pancake form, not cake form).

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Food festivals FTW.

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SoWa: The hidden gem of the South End

I wrote this piece for my summer session 1 Feature Writing class and got an A on it (YAY!) so I figured if my journalism professor thinks it’s okay, it must be decent enough to publish on my blog. I  haven’t had time to do much cooking since summer session 2 started, so here’s something for the time being…

A swarm of people, dogs, and running children surround you as you walk toward white tent after white tent. From far away it’s difficult to distinguish them, but up close, under each tent, there is something unique—a fellow Bostonian proudly displaying his or her craft, each item one of a kind.

Your olfactory senses go on overdrive as hundreds of different smells waft toward you with each food truck you pass—the scent of a wood burning fire pizza oven, rosemary dusted French fries, butter browning as it forms the perfect crust on the cheesiest grilled cheese sandwich you’ve ever seen. The colors too are vibrant and in every shade imaginable—whether it’s a pint of just-picked strawberries so juicy they temporarily stain your finger tips red, to an overstuffed red velvet cookie with purple cow ice cream sandwich, to the rainbow of brightly-painted, eye-catching food trucks, virtually every color on the wheel is represented. Movement is constant as people, children, and dogs flow from vendor to vendor oooh-ing and awww-ing, picking up, trying on, smelling, tasting, and ultimately purchasing items that please them.

Strawberry, goat cheese, caramelized onion, and arugula pizza from Vesta Mobile Wood-Fired Pizza

Strawberry, goat cheese, caramelized onion, and arugula flatbread from Vesta Mobile Wood-Fired Pizza

The largest ice cream sandwich I've ever seen: red velvet cookie with purple cow ice cream.

The largest ice cream sandwich I’ve ever seen: red velvet cookie with purple cow ice cream.

Every Sunday at 460 Harrison Avenue, three ordinary paved parking lots are transformed into this bustling market for those seeking fresh produce, handmade arts and crafts from local artisans, a unique food truck meal, and much more. Now in its tenth year, this open market, which stands for “South of Washington Street,” is open every Sunday in the South End from 10am-4pm. New this year, the market is separated into three different lots; the handmade crafts, farmer’s market, and food truck sections are all separated by a block or two, allowing the market to have expanded and making it easier to navigate for customers.

“I was pleasantly surprised with the number of artists and the crowd size,” said Boston University student Nikki Jenner. There are all kinds of vendors at SoWa—farm and food, gourmet and kitchen products, bath and body, antique and vintage, fashion trucks, fair-trade, and eco friendly handmade import vendors.

The SoWa Farmers Market is a juried market, so it is required that independent designers submit an application and pay a fee in order to become a vendor. Additionally, they must commit to a minimum of five dates. And the open market does go on rain or shine. According to Helen Schroeder of Linden Leaf designs, “getting accepted to sell at SoWa is quite a stamp of approval in the Boston indie arts community—almost like a rite of passage. I get the sense that having this opportunity under my belt will open doors in other places.”

The market appeals to people of all ages, from kids enjoying the gourmet food samples being offered to them, to the elderly checking out vintage, one-of-a-kind pieces of jewelry, to all ages in between. “[The market] was set up in a neat way, and to just aimlessly meander and look at some of the trinkets and thingamabobs was really cool,” said Ethan Rimdzius, a student at Boston University.

Ethan was hungry.

Ethan was hungry.

The open market is an unusual place for both customers and crafters alike. Schroeder sells most of her work—handmade paper designs—online and on wholesale or consignment, so she typically does not get to experience much customer interaction. However, SoWa provides her with a means to communicate face-to-face with customers.

“I believe there’s something so valuable in being able to look at and question and talk to the person who has made the object you hold in your hand, whether it’s art or furniture or food,” said Schroeder. From the opposite perspective, too, it’s also valuable for artists to observe customers interacting with their work, to see what gets them particularly excited and what they’re specifically looking for. As Schroeder says, “It’s the best kind of ‘market research’ there is.”

Since the artists must commit to several Sundays, visitors, such as Jenner, have the chance to come back and check out any booths they previously enjoyed and to see if anything new was added. “There are a few artists’ booths that I look forward to keeping up with to see upcoming creations,” she noted.

Admiring the plethora of local designers' jewelry. Photo courtesy of Ethan R.

Admiring the plethora of local designers’ jewelry. Photo courtesy of Ethan R.

While some visit SoWa to shop for gifts, others, such as Jenner, simply stop by for a bite to eat. “Nowhere else in the city can you find a gathering of [food trucks] this size and with such variety. There is something for everyone to eat and it’s all so delicious,” she continued.

“The food truck culture in Boston is amazing and I love getting the chance to trade food with other trucks and meet new people at SoWa,” said Emily Sanchez, Assistant Manager of the popular Roxy’s Grilled Cheese Truck.

While working SoWa can be exhausting, it is also a rewarding experience for those inside the truck or behind the craft table. “SoWa shifts can be a million times crazier than any other shift—which is part of the fun I think,” disclosed Sanchez. “You just have to keep working for four to five hours nonstop, and of course by the end you’re sort of brain-dead, but so are your coworkers and it’s okay.”

Fresh produce from the SoWa farmer's market. Strawberries so ripe and juicy they stain your fingers red immediately. Photo courtesy of Ethan R.

Fresh produce from the SoWa farmer’s market. Strawberries so ripe and juicy they stain your fingers red immediately. Photo courtesy of Ethan R.

As a downside, the hand-made crafts at SoWa can be a bit pricey as they are all homemade, thus they could potentially be out of the typical college student’s price range. However, the market is not in an area of Boston that is dominated by that age group. The other drawback about SoWa is its location. While the vibe of the market does mirror the general feel of the South End—eclectic, artsy, edgy—the market’s location is less than convenient, making the journey there and back a bit unappealing for those residing in Back Bay, Fenway/Kenmore, Brookline, and Cambridge. However, the MBTA bus system can get you there without too much hassle.

Despite the location, taking part of your Sunday to check out all that SoWa has to offer is “a great way to support local, smaller businesses,” said Sanchez.

Boston is very lucky to have such a well-run open market that seems to draw an enormous crowd every weekend to a part of Boston that typically is under-recognized. According to Schroeder, “To me, a morning at SoWa is the quintessential summer day in Boston.”

Click here to see the SoWa website!