stockbridge to Boston

April 17, 2017

“If people sat outside and looked at the stars each night, I bet they’d live a lot differently. When you look into infinity, you realize there are more important things than what people do all day.”


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Sometimes we are inspired by total strangers. Sometimes we see people, or experience events, that make us want to do more with our lives, or try harder, or go somewhere, or do something a little bit crazy. Oftentimes those people don’t even know they inspire us…they just do what they do as everyone else soaks in their achievement.

But sometimes, if we are fortunate, we know those people. Sometimes we love those people and get a front row seat to being inspired, and challenged, and encouraged. That’s what happened last weekend in Boston.

Richard ran the Boston marathon on April 17, and I am so glad I got to see it. If you ever have the chance, go see the Boston marathon. Even if you don’t run, and even if you don’t know anyone running. It will be worth it, I promise.

I went up early on Thursday to work for a few days, and got the chance to drive around rural/western MA, which was beautiful. I’m usually not big on big cities, but rural new England really is gorgeous. During the process I stopped by Hopkinton, which is tiny town 26 miles west of Boston that is where the marathon starts. It was mostly deserted, but the start line was painted and you could feel the excitement building, even though the race was 3 days out.

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Everyone I talked to from Marlboro to Northbridge to Southborough was pumped about the race. And these were not runners…these were veterinarians, and the stranger who checked me into my hotel, and the waitress at the restaurant with mediocre food. Everyone was genuinely excited, and it made your heart swell up and your stomach have little butterflies of anticipation, even though I wasn’t running and it was only Friday. Marathon Monday is a state holiday in MA known as Patriot’s Day, but that wasn’t the only reason these folks were excited.

One person grew up handing out orange slices every year in Framingham as a little girl. One vet’s aunt had an apartment in downtown Boston where they watched the finishers race down Boylston Street every year. One person was from Hopkinton, and told me exactly where to go see the start line. One person’s dentist actually painted the start line for 40 years until he passed away at the age of 86.

In Massachusetts, this is not an event. It’s part of the culture; part of what makes them proud to be from that cold and tiny state. I was proud to be there, too, even for just a long weekend.IMG_0506

Jake and Kate flew to Boston on Friday, and I met them at the hotel in South Boston on Friday afternoon. Richard and his family were not coming up until Saturday night, and we had a great time adventuring around the city in the meantime. None of us had ever been to Boston (except Kate, once when she was in the 8th grade), and we were pleasantly surprised by how much we loved it. The weather was stunning beautiful, which probably helped. But it was very clean, small enough to see in an (aggressively-planned) day, and everyone was nice. Maybe it was the marathon, that feeling in the air that everyone was proud to be there, or that it was opening weekend at Fenway Park…I don’t know. But it was like we were in a small town in North Carolina except for the really strong accents and the proliferation of the f-word. (But they said it in the nicest way possible, trust me.)

Next time you’re there, rent a Hubway bike and try not to get killed racing from downtown to South Boston. It will be exhilarating and you will be happy to be alive when you are finished. Go to J.P. Licks ice cream and get the cold brew white coffee, because it will change your life. Walk down Boylston street with a few thousand of your best friends and stop in the Adidas store, because never have you seen so many people so excited about running. Get a dozen bagels and eat them for breakfast every day, because that’s something you won’t regret when you are 80 and fresh bagels are like little miracles to make your day a little bit better.IMG_0503

Jake, Kate, and I took the D-line (green) train to Woodland Station on Saturday, which is mile 17 on the course and where we determined to watch Richard/give him Gu’s on Monday. I wanted to do a dry-run to time how long it took to get there and pick an exact spot so we wouldn’t leave anything to chance. It was an hour each way and we were successful in navigating the route and finding a good spot to camp out on race day. On the way back we stopped off in a little town (Newton Highlands) for lunch at a local pub, which was fantastic. Those New Englanders…they know how to make good sandwiches, let me tell you. And our North Carolina accents made us celebrities everywhere we went.

Richard flew in on Saturday night, along with Mrs. Segal, Annie, and Caroline. We ate copious amounts of pizza in the hotel room before retiring for the night. On Sunday we were up early and headed downtown (after bagels, of course) to the race expo, where Richard needed to pick up his packet and number. We had the subway system figured out by this point, so it wasn’t too difficult despite the huge crowds. The expo was in the John Hynes convention center, and every running apparel and product company in the world was there. It was packed, but pretty neat to see. Afterwards we walked down Boylston Street towards the finish line, stopped in the Adidas store (again, just for good measure), and then ate lunch at Joe’s on Newton Street. The BLT’s there could feed 12 people.

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It was after 1:00pm at this point and temperatures were well over 80, which is incredibly unseasonable for Boston in mid-April. So we hopped on the subway and headed back to the hotel, where we all rested/recovered/napped for the afternoon while Richard propped his feet up. Supper was at a little Italian place (La Motta’s) in South Boston, after which we Ubered back to the hotel, got all of Richard’s stuff ready for the morning, and tried our best to fall asleep.

Monday dawned bright, windy, and very early, and Richard headed to the start line at 5:45. Temperatures were forecast to be in the low 60’s, but it was clear that prediction was never going to happen, since it was 65 and climbing by 6:00am. The rest of us slept/laid in the bed until 7:45, and then left the hotel to make our way to mile 17. We arrived without incident on the crowded subway, and steaked out a spot about 50 feet past the “mile 17” sign. Shortly after we arrived at 10:00am the handcycle racers started coming through, which was awesome to see. They were flying!

Around 11:30 the elite women came through, followed closely by the elite men, which consisted of 10 sets of muscled legs that looked like pistons, jamming into the pavement yet somehow still floating across it as they blew by us doing 4-minute 50-second miles. At mile 17. “Inspiring” doesn’t really do it justice.

We received 10K updates on Richard’s whereabouts throughout the race, and the minutes prior to his anticipated arrival were excruciating for everyone involved. I emphasized several times that WE COULD NOT MISS HIM BECAUSE HE MUST HAVE HIS GU’s, which everyone was probably tired of hearing after the 7th reminder. The result, however, was 6 sets of eyes trained on the little overpass from whence the runners came, and eventually seeing his black hat and white singlet coming towards us. We screamed a deafening scream, the handoff occurred without a hitch, and he was gone.

“Go go go back on the train!”

So we hopped back on, and rode all the way back to the Kenmore station, which is just before the finish around mile 24.5. This was a really cool place to watch because runners are so close to the finish, but everyone is tired by this point. So tired, in fact, we saw several crashes, a few falls, and several people helping other runners to the finish. But the crowd was massive, at least 3 deep at all sections of the sidewalk as far as you could see in either direction. I’ve never seen anything like it. We had to scream into each other’s ears due to the noise, and seeing runners coming down the home stretch was incredible.

We saw Richard pass and then headed for the finisher’s area, which was an absolute madhouse. It took nearly an hour to cover the few blocks due to security checks, closed roads, and the majority of the 500,000 spectators that watched the race being congregated in that small space. We eventually got to Richard and found him sitting under the “S” in the waiting area, where we gave him flip flops, a dry shirt, and formulated a plan to find an Uber back to the hotel.IMG_0533

He finished in 3:18, which was not what he wanted, but there is something special about finishing a marathon, no matter how fast or slow you do it. The heat hit near-record levels, which negatively affected almost everyone. Over 2000 runners were treated at the medical tents during and after the race, which is an indication of how hard it was. And according to Richard, “sometimes you need to be reminded of how badly you want something, and this was that reminder for me.”

We’ll be back to Boston, I am sure.

In the meantime, we will eat cake and Boombalatti’s and run some more and enjoy Saturday nights eating things that are not pasta. And we will be grateful for the chance to do incredible things and love those people who inspire us, every day.

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Here’s another cake recipe I made for Uncle Lewis’ birthday a few weeks ago. It was a hit.

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For the Chocolate Cake:

(makes a double layer 8-inch cake)

  • 1 3/4 cups (8.75 ounces) all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups (14 ounces) granulated sugar
  • 3/4 cup (2.25 ounces) unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 cup (8 ounces) buttermilk
  • 1/2 cup (4 ounces) vegetable oil
  • 2 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 cup (8 ounces) freshly brewed hot coffee

Recipe

For the Chocolate Cake:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 (F). Prepare two 8 inch round cake pans by spraying generously with cooking spray and lining the bottom of each pan with parchment paper circles. Spray the top of each parchment circle and set aside.
  2. In the bowl of a freestanding electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, combine 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour, 2 cups granulated sugar, 3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, 2 teaspoons baking soda, 1 teaspoon baking powder, and 1 teaspoon kosher salt. Mix on low speed until thoroughly combined.
  3. In a separate medium bowl, combine 1 cup buttermilk, 1/2 cup oil, 2 eggs, and 1 tablespoon vanilla. Whisk together gently until just combined.
  4. With the mixer on its lowest speed, slowly add the wet ingredients (from the 3rd step) to the dry ingredients (from the 2nd step). Add 1 cup hot coffee. Continue stirring on low speed until just combined, before stopping the mixer and using a heatproof rubber spatulato scrape the bottom and sides of the bowl and mix into the batter. The batter will seem really liquidy, but again, this is normal.
  5. Pour the batter into the prepared pans and bake in the preheated oven for 35 to 40 minutes, until a skewer inserted into the center of each cake comes out with a few crumbs and the tops of each cake bounce with a spongelike texture when poked gently with your finger. When the cakes are ready, remove from the oven and let the cakes cool in the pans on a wire rackfor 30 minutes, before turning out to cool. Remove parchment paper and allow the cakes to cool completely to room temperature.
  6. Once the cakes are cooled to room temperature, wrap each layer in plastic wrap. Transfer to the refrigerator and chill for at least 2 hours before frosting.

Caramel:

  • 1 cup granulated sugar200g
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 150 ml heavy cream room temperature
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter 100g, room temperature

Milk Chocolate Ganache:

  • 5 oz milk chocolate good quality, finely chopped
  • 3 oz heavy cream

Caramel Buttercream:

  • 5 large egg whites
  • 1 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 cups unsalted butter cubed, room temperature
  • 1/2 cup caramel cooled

Assembly:

  • 1 cup pecans chopped
  • 6 Turtles Minis

INSTRUCTIONS

  1. Caramel:
  1. Place sugar and water into a medium pot, stir to combine, but to not stir from this point forward. Cook over high heat, washing down the sides of the pot with a pastry brush dipped in water as needed to prevent crystals.
  2. Cook until desired color of caramel is reached and immediately remove from heat. Very slowly, whisk in heavy cream. The mixture will bubble up (a lot) and boil. Add butter, return to heat, and bring back to a boil. Cook for 2 minutes whisking constantly.
  3. Remove from heat and let cool to room temperature. Transfer to a container and place in fridge to thicken.*

Milk Chocolate Ganache:

  1. Place chopped chocolate and cream into a microwave safe bowl. Stir to combine. Microwave for 20 seconds, stir. Microwave in 10 second intervals, stirring in between, until smooth and silky. Set aside to cool completely before using.*

Caramel Buttercream:

  1. Place egg whites and sugar into the bowl of a stand mixer, whisk until combined.**
  2. Place bowl over a hot water bath on the stove and whisk constantly until the mixture is no longer grainy to the touch (approx. 3mins).
  3. Place bowl on your stand mixer and whisk on med-high until the meringue is stiff and cooled (the bowl is no longer warm to the touch (approx. 5-10mins)).
  4. Switch to paddle attachment. Slowly add cubed butter and mix until smooth.
  5. Add cooled caramel and whip until smooth.***

Assembly:

  1. Place one layer of cake on a cake stand or serving dish. Top with about 2/3 cup buttercream, drizzle with caramel and ganache and sprinkle with chopped pecans. Repeat with remaining layers. Crumb coat the outside and chill cake for 15mins. Frost and smooth the outside, chill for 30mins.
  2. Using a teaspoon, drip ganache along the edges then fill in the top. Chill for 15mins.
  3. Repeat with caramel and chill for 30mins.
  4. If desired, top with rosettes and mini Turtles.****

NOTES

* The ganache and caramel can be made the day before and left in the fridge overnight. Place plastic wrap directly onto the surface of each to prevent a skin from forming.
** Ensure there is NO trace of egg yolks in your whites and that your mixer bowl and whisk is completely grease free or your meringue won’t stiffen.
*** The buttercream may look like it’s curdled at some point. Keep mixing until it is completely smooth.
**** Adding rosettes and Turtles will cause the caramel to slide down more. I recommend skipping this step

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